The following is a two-part article written for the Austin Chronicle:

p a r t . o n e

The Body Is the Music

By Barbejoy A. Ponzio

AUGUST 9, 1999:  The dancer begins by circling her hips clockwise. Soon she is walking while continuing to circle those hips. Then she is moving her ribs, rotating them in a counterclockwise motion in opposition to the hip circles. Next, she adds a shimmy for her chest. Then, her arms begin to undulate, their movements as fluid as snakes. She follows this by spinning her entire body around and around. Her crowning touch is to call in the brass section, playing the zils -- finger cymbals -- for syncopation. And all the while, her eyes stay in full contact with the audience, drawing them into her exotic dance.

What is the name of the challenging piece? Well, it has many names: Oriental Dance, Raqs Sharqi (Arabic for Oriental dance), Middle Eastern dance, American Tribal, Blue Wave Fusion, Gypsy Fusion ... the list goes on. However, one name that is familiar to you -- and a misnomer to some of the art form's dancers -- is "belly dance." What is that, you're thinking? Stripper? Hootchie-kootchie dancer? Erotic performer? Now hold on with those snide remarks and lewd comments for a minute.

Let's remember that each form of dance had to do battle with artistic prejudice before it prospered in the limelight. Each had to win over its viewers' confidence and attention. For example, female ballet dancers who performed at the Paris Opera House during the 19th century were referred to as "toe dancers" and were so poorly paid that they purposely sought out wealthy suitors or husbands. Isadora Duncan, the pioneer of modern dance, was at first rejected by New York audiences when she scandalously danced barefooted and bra-less (once having to recover a breast that had fallen out of her tunic). In fact, the famous Russian dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, after seeing Duncan perform in the early 1900s, commented that "her performance is spontaneous and is not based on any school of dancing and so cannot be taught ... it is not art." Ruth St. Denis, now revered as the mother of modern dance in America, appropriated the mystique of the exotic Orient and gave it a monumental place in her vaudeville repertoire. Martha Graham, formerly in Miss Ruth's company, also got her start in vaudeville before she graduated to the concert stage eventually to become the "high priestess" of the modern dance world. Tap dancers were the feature attraction in the traveling minstrel and medicine shows during the mid-1800s before their art form reached Hollywood film and Broadway musical theatre. And the ancient dance form of the Middle East, exploited by Hollywood film and relegated to vaudeville and various bawdy-type venues, became known as "belly dance." Today's "belly dancers" are working hard to claim a long overdue place on the Billboard chart of recognition.

Does Austin's Middle Eastern dance community have the gumption, skill, expertise, and commitment to stand alongside Austin's modern dance community? Don't doubt it for a second. Austin is considered the Mecca for Middle Eastern dance in America due to the quality and quantity of the dancers here. The city is home to the Austin Bellydance Association, which boasts 200 members, as well as many dancers, musicians, students, teachers, and professionals deeply involved in the practice and promotion of Middle Eastern dance -- an entire subculture which is very vital, vibrant, and close-knit.

Z-Helene Christopher, Middle Eastern dance instructor for Austin Community College

After watching Melissa Amira's Caravan of Middle Eastern Dance at the Carousel Lounge and interviewing six Austin women who teach, perform, and promote Middle Eastern Dance, my interest and respect for the dance has grown by leaps and bounds. Pat Taylor, Z-Helene Christopher, Lucila Velez, Vonda Totten, Bobbye Dee, and Melissa Amira represent a wonderful cross section of Austinites who are creating a contemporary image for this ancient art form. Dance scholar, national star, student, seminar impresario, dynamo studio owner, artistic director -- each woman offers a unique slant on the story of this dance. And their captivating tales can help you understand and appreciate it. Every form of dance, from ballet to modern, jazz to tap, has its own origins, movement language, choreographic approach, and dynamic personalities that set it apart from others. Middle Eastern dance is no exception.

The Beginnings

Ballet has its origins in folk dance. American popular dance is a fusion of European dance forms and African religious dance. Early dance was part of ceremonial rituals such as marriage, death, and birth. The origins of Middle Eastern dance movements, such as undulating the belly, are said to have been based on the movements of labor and childbirth, a part of religious ceremony thousands of years ago. Is that where Melissa Amira, artistic director of the Carousel Caravan of Middle Eastern Dance, believes the form's origins lie? "No one really knows for sure where it started," she replies. "There is no recorded history. So Morocco, the most respected ethnologist and Oriental dancer, has tried very hard to do as much research to find out the truth. In 1967, Morocco witnessed the birthing ritual in a village near Casablanca. The movements are very similar to some undulating-type movements that we do. But there is no proof; it is not written down anywhere."

Z-Helene Christopher, Middle Eastern dance instructor for Austin Community College and national touring performance star, is a profound believer in the Goddess worship-origin of her art form of Belly Dance Fusion. "The big Goddess movement going on in the country and the world now is a subgroup of bellydancers," she says. "A lot of us believe that history got it wrong. There was a Great Mother Earth, a Mother Goddess that came about before the Father. The Father came about with having to protect land with war because we needed a powerful, fierce, warring god, whereas the fertile land-giving god was the Mother Earth. There are people who feel passionately the opposite. It is very controversial, and it goes beyond the belly-dance world. I think a lot of the movements, such as the circles, figure eights, spirals, straight lines, you see in the neolithic art world, 9,000 to 4,000 BC. ... You will see a lot of these designs on pottery that deal with fertility, with rhythm, with cycles. In my opinion, this dance is very old. It stems from fertility religions. It is that ancient, primordial quality about this dance that gets people hooked into watching it."

What's in a Name?

Bobbye Dee

The term belly dance did not originate during ancient times. It was invented by Sol Bloom in 1893. His "Street in Cairo" exhibition at the Chicago World's Fair was not soliciting many patrons. Once he began advertising that there were "belly dancers" inside, people began pouring into his pavilion. Bloom made enough money to finance his later congressional campaign. Unfortunately, his coined phrase, "belly dance," is still around today.

Melissa Amira (Arabic for princess) is one dancer who will not use "belly dance" to define her art. She adamantly quips, "No, I use it to tell people what it isn't. When I tell people I am a dancer, they ask me what I perform. 'I perform Middle Eastern-style dancing.' 'Oh, you are a belly dancer.' 'Yes, for lack of a better term, I suppose that is what you could call me.' From that moment on, the mindset is there. I hate the term. And I have good friends who embrace the term. I hate it because it came out through the exploitation of some very brave and talented women. It is a beautiful art form that is extremely misunderstood as well. I wish I could take every man in America and put him in a beginner bellydance class. Then I think the connotation with stripping would end right there."

Pat Taylor, an art appreciation instructor at Southwest Texas State University who is also a dance scholar and professional Middle Eastern dancer, defines her expression of Middle Eastern Dance as Oriental. "I make a distinction between belly dance and Oriental dance," she says. "Belly dance includes everything from the Renaissance Fair Dancer [to] the American Tribal Style Dancer [to] your average hobbyist wiggler. Oriental Dance is a universal form that is danced wherever Arab culture predominates. I say Arab rather than Muslim; that is an important distinction. Bobby Farah, an icon of our dance form, said, 'Oriental dance is anywhere Um Kalthoum is listened to. She is the voice of the Arab soul.'"

Melissa Amira's mother-in-law, Lucila Velez, owner of Lucila's Dance Studio, professes a different viewpoint. "Belly dance is a more common, general name," she asserts. "If you don't say belly dance, a lot of people get confused; they don't know what it is. Middle Eastern dance, belly dance, Oriental dance are just labels that people change from generation to generation on the basis of what culture it is and where you are. It has the same ingredients. In America, it is belly dance. For me, it is just dance, movement."

It's the Moves

Melissa Amira's Caravan of Middle Eastern Dance

What are the movements that set this dance apart from other forms? Taylor exclaims, "When someone says to me, 'I can do anything I want to in this dance,' I say, 'No, you can't.' Because it has a language. It has an identity and integrity. Oriental dance is Eastern yoga. You have to think with the muscles inside your trunk. Movement is generated by the deep muscles such as the iliad psoas. All my teaching comes from the interior intercostal muscles and the psoas. I tell my students: 'Put a Ping-Pong ball between your upper thighs and hold it there. With everything you do, hold the Ping-Pong ball.' This gets them in the sense of the Oriental column. Oriental dance is a column. American dancers execute big, sweeping movements that are not Oriental. The defining characteristics have to do with the music. It revolves around the music, defining the movements within the column of the body, making the movements come from within, pulling the energy in, taking it out only selectively. The Oriental dancer is the visual equivalent of music. If we are doing our jobs correctly, you can look at us and you will swear that the music is literally emanating from our bodies. If you are not channeling that music and everything that the music implies, then you are not a Middle Eastern dancer; you are a belly dancer."

Melissa Amira believes her body is a musical instrument, so music is key to her expression of Middle Eastern dance. "I am adamant about listening to Middle Eastern music until I have it completely memorized," she says. "Where I can listen to the entire song in my head and know every single beat change, every single breath that is taken, every single stanza change. I know the music back and forth. I study my music constantly. After listening so much, I can tell when the beat is going to change. When that four counts is going to change to a different rhythm. The more intricate my listening gets, the more intricate my movements become. I want to touch on every single one of those changes. The closer I can get to it the better."

The Music

Suhaila Salimpour, a famous Oriental dancer, once told Melissa Amira, "When you are dancing, you should be dancing as if you are dancing for a deaf person. You're showing them what the music is on the body." With enthusiasm, Melissa Amira continues, "That is what I always try to embody. That I am the music. My body is the music. The more I can touch on that and the more beats I can get out of my body, the better. You can't do that if you don't know the music and don't practice. That is one of the things that our dance form is plagued by: people who love the idea of being a belly dancer but don't want to sweat. Being a dancer is hard, hard work."

Z-Helene takes the inspiration of music to a further dimension. In describing her choreographical style, she states, "There must be something about the music that really grabs me. I prefer American belly dance music, American music with a belly dance flair, because the melodies are much more palatable. I don't like to just put music on and just dance around. I usually have a real focus for each piece. I feel I owe it to my audience to do some homework instead of just learning a bunch of steps. You can do your homework by training yourself technically and/or by going deeper and looking for a deeper meaning of the song. For example, I danced to this really heavy piece by Steve Flynn from Seattle. It was real intense and I decided to work with the darker emotions -- anger, injustice. I like to present things that are not totally choreographed but conceptually choreographed. I have had theatre, modern dance, and I have an eye on where our culture is, so I want to give out something that is a little deeper than just 'Look at me shimmy and vibrate.'

"Something that I really developed was my finger-cymbal playing, my zils. It has really taken off and it is something that they [the belly dance world] can relate to because many of them play finger cymbals. I had to go take tap dance and flamenco to get concepts to increase my finger-cymbal playing. I kind of outgrew what I could learn in the belly dancing world. You can always learn new rhythms and variations, but I felt like I really wanted to fly with the cymbals. To do solos and go places with them almost like jazz riffs. That is something that is definitely different that they can understand."

Her husband, Rick Fink, who plays drums and frequently accompanies Z-Helene, refers to them as the Lucy and Desi of the belly dance world. Z-Helene remarks, "Doing the couple show was also a real hook-in for us. People could relate to what Rick and I were doing when we related to each other, kind of a male-female thing. We had these little fights with my finger cymbals and his drums. Kind of like what we do now but we turned it into art. I couldn't find music that spoke to me so I helped create it. I helped arrange and wrote some of it. If they have music written for them, most of the dancers prefer more Middle Eastern-sounding music that is not as interesting or contemporary [as American belly dancing music]."

For Lucila, the way she is feeling at the time of her performance is just as important as the music. The music must match her mood. If she is sad, she dances to melancholy music. If she feels happy, she chooses celebratory music. "Sometimes when I go to perform, it is really hard to know what I am going to do because I don't know how I will be feeling at the time of my performance. I improvise. I don't choreograph my feelings; it is really hard. Usually they categorize me as the 'joyful dancer.' I am one of the best joyful dancers around here because I always move with a lot of joy. Why am I happy? 'Cause I keep dancing. And also, it is very important what kind of audience you have. What kind of surroundings you are in and what kind of energy you are receiving. For me when I dance, it is that energy exchange. I give that energy to my people who are watching me and then I receive that energy back. I use a lot of psychology in my dance. It works. If you put joy in the dance, you receive the joy back. 'Okay, give me more.' It is just wonderful. I love it. I always like to have a close, intimate performance where I can really see the people. I do eye contact because it is so important. I will never stop dancing. If I stop, I will die."

Although these Middle Eastern dancers may differ on terminology, disagree on origin, and particularize their choreographic style, all share a love for the dance. And, in return, the dance has given them insight into who they are and what history has brought them to this point in their lives. More than just a love affair with movement, the dance has transformed their lives. It has empowered them to confront issues of spirituality, sexuality, and sensuality. Dance reflects changing societal values and the increasing popularity of Middle Eastern dance charts these changes on the dance floor.

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Transformation Is Its Power

By Barbejoy A. Ponzio

AUGUST 16, 1999:  "I think I will be a monster," says the Halloween child, putting on the gory-looking rubber mask. "Do you think anyone will know it is me?" Ah, remember the thrill of being someone or something else? What fun it was to pretend, to surrender our identity and be transformed. In African ritual dances rooted in religion, possession or transformation often play a significant part. For the Western dancer onstage, some form of transformation also takes place, a change represented through costume, lighting, role, or the illusion that virtuosic movement can create.

Austin's Middle Eastern dancers also embody transformation. They bring the mystique of the East to the viewer, offering him or her a glimpse of exotic foreign lands and fantasies through their movement and appearance and the music they dance to. And in giving themselves over to this form of dance, they transcend their own physical presence to enter another dimension which empowers them with freedom, spirituality, sexuality, and sensuality.

For some, metamorphosis begins with the allure of a stage name. "My Middle Eastern danceinstructor told me, 'Amira means princess. When you are dancing, you look like a princess,'" says Melissa Amira, artistic director-dancer for the Carousel Caravan of Middle Eastern Dance. When she is performing, the Princess also becomes a muse. "Right before I go onstage, I say my own personal prayer to God. I ask that I am allowed to be embodied by the 'muse.' I feel in my heart that the more hard work I put into my art, the more I am allowed to feel onstage. And feel I do! Sometimes I am a flame, burning brightly, sometimes a river, flowing swiftly and surely. I am the air, the earth, the mountain, the sky. I am an elemental force which cannot be controlled or contained."

Z-Helene, Middle Eastern dance instructor for Austin Community College and national touring performance star, says her stage name came about by chance. "In the old days, I used to perform on Sixth Street. One night, on the corner of Sixth and Sabine, a couple of guys began barking out business for me: 'Come and see a sight never to be seen. Yes! Z-Helene on Sixth and Sabine!' It was just a slip of the tongue. It was meant to be, 'See Helene ...,' but I recognized it as soon as I heard it ... 'Z-Helene.' It took me a while to embrace the Z. Finally, at a workshop someone asked me, 'Z-Helene, are you going to dance tonight?' I thought, 'If she believes I am Z-Helene, why don't I believe it?' And that is when I truly became Z-Helene. Since then, the Z has come to mean several things. The 'Z' is for zils (my passion), my Greekness as in Zorba the Greek and the movie Z, a sword or lightning bolt (like Zorro), and the Z has also come to represent my masculine side, with Helene being the feminine. Z-Helene is my archetype, my highest aspirations as a human spirit. I am not always Z-Helene, usually just when I am performing, teaching, or writing. The Z takes a lot of energy to maintain."

For others, the magic of performing is what lures them to transformation. "From the very firstbellydance class, I was hooked by the creative part of it. It was a challenge to me personally, because I was extremely shy. When you get onstage, you are not the same person, because you are acting out a part," recalls Bobbye Dee, Middle Eastern dancer, teacher, and seminar sponsor-owner of Kiss the Sands Productions. "I had this woman that took my dance class and later she wrote me, 'You have made me feel like Sophia Loren.' This woman was in her 70s."

Pat Taylor
Pat Taylor

"When I perform, I become a Goddess," comments Lucila Velez, owner of Lucila's Dance Studio. "I am transformed. My body is my temple.When I move, I get into a different state of mind." Velez believes dance gives power to women. As a teacher, her mission in life is giving joy and power through the dance. She affirms, "They become more assertive through freedom of expression. Dancers have that attitude when they are dancing. Dancing gives you that mind- body-spirit connection. You get stronger and more powerful."

The Spiritual Connection

It was Ruth St. Denis, the mother of modern dance in America and also one of the most famous Oriental dancers during the first quarter of this century, that reintroduced the connection between spirituality and dance performance to modern artists. In her many disguises, the stage became her landscape ("a spirit journey to India -- to all regions of the East") for guiding herself and her audiences to what she hoped was spiritual fulfillment. She once wrote, "I demand of the dance that it reveal the God in man."

Long before Miss Ruth, early dance existed only as a ritual element. And it did not stand alone as a separate activity or profession. Rituals had specific purposes, such as fertility, hunting, healing. If the ritual dance was done right, the magic would happen: The land would be fertile. The hunt would be successful. The sick would be healed. Dance was the blessing and the prayer. Today there are some Middle Eastern dancers who also believe if the moves are done right, they will be blessed.

Pat Taylor, Southwest Texas State University instructor, dance historian, and Middle Eastern dance performer, asserts, "The women who are drawn to bellydancing are eccentrics. Every woman I know who is in this dance form is exceptional. For anyone who sticks with it more than six weeks, there is some deep hunger that this dance fills. For some, it is a chance to perform and they would kill to be onstage. For others, there is a spiritual life that this dance feeds. The great star Suhayrzeki believes that if she is on the stage and makes a movement perfectly, all will be good, she will be graced. So there is a spiritual core to many of the commercial Middle Eastern dance stars.

"American dancers tend more to believe that they're in touch with the Great Mother. The Seventies feminist revisionists like to define 'bellydancing' as the revival of the worship of the Great Mother. They are, through the dance, worshiping Her. They use the dance as a ritual, a spiritual awareness. If it serves a purpose, that is okay. But because I am a historian and classically trained, I hew my line to something more definite, something more grounded in the culture that created the form."

Z-Helene is one of those dancers who experiences a holy connection when she performs. She avows, "There is something very transcendent when a dancer can really connect with the music and audience. There is a transcendent quality akin to what happens in a religious ceremony. It doesn't always happen, because most times it is just pure entertainment, not-so-good stuff. [But] when the dancer is really good and can really communicate, there is a real deep connection to the life cycles and a connection to a higher being, a higher source of power -- the Goddess. She is this fertile, beautiful, compassionate, loving, sexy, and spiritual person. When it really does connect, it is sexy and religious. That is what I love about it. It is holy and sexy.

"I think we honor the feminine incredibly and the feminine aspect of spirituality -- the feminine as deity as opposed to just the masculine as deity. It is important that the feminine be honored, because when it was not honored as a spiritual being, as Her deity status declined, the status of women declined. As there was less Goddess worshiping, as it was being wiped out and Her temples were being destroyed, women were being more and more controlled. To me, it is so important that as women we see ourselves as divine, as embodying divine energy, because we have been so brainwashed into this father-son deal. It is destructive."

Honoring the Feminine -- Any Age, Body Size, Shape, or Form

America may be the land of the free, but it is enslaved by unrealistic notions of body image and age and is still wrestling with leftover Puritanical issues of sexuality. The Middle Eastern dancer transcends our culture's harsh standards of ideal beauty. Through her charismatic movements, she transcends her appearance and so hypnotizes the audience into a dream of enchanting, exquisite form. Middle Eastern dance offers new "ways of seeing" a dancer's body, and in turn, new ways for viewers to look at their own bodies.

For Vonda Totten, UT technical writer by day and bellydancer-teacher with Troupe Mirage by night, Middle Eastern dance has helped her to celebrate her body. "I love moving my hips," she says. "I have always had lower-body balance and good-sized hips. I love having a place where it is honored. I am not the thinnest person in the world. I have been told by my students, 'Oh, it is so nice to see someone who's built with hips like yours and can dance, that there is a place for you to go.' Okay, I'll take that as a compliment.

"I think as Western women we have a lot of hang-ups. We have a lot of stereotypes. The reason I like bellydance is that it makes me stare all of that right in the face. Performing publicly is about my own self-journey and my own self-image. Every time I perform, I have to realize that I am not happy with myself, but I have the power within myself to change. It forces you to learn and accept the beauty of yourself. For me, it has been more of a spiritual, personal journey. When I used to walk into a room, I would always try and hide. Now, my demeanor is more presence-oriented. I stand up straight. I use arm gestures. I have strength. I have power. Dance has given me a lot. I am lucky I found a form that I can do."

Lucila Velez
Lucila Velez

Bobbye Dee declares that no matter what age you are, the dance will change your attitude and you will blossom. It renews you. "A lot of people that take my classes for the first time are adults. They have already raised their families and they want to do something creative. They never got a chance to dance as a child. The oldest student I have right now is 67. She is in wonderful shape. The youngest I have is 17. I have a mother-and-daughter team in my troupe. Most of the women want to do it for fun and some really want to become professional dancers." Totten adds, "Most people who start dancing are between 25 and 35. At 30 years old, it may be the first time a woman performs -- costume, lights, and all." And Taylor remarks, "I think that bellydance does allow women to find literally a place in which to breathe, to be, to expand into a full presence. For middle-aged women in America, we simply disappear. It's eerie. Thank God I've got the dance!"

"The dance is also about being secure with your femininity," comments Taylor. "Being perfectly content with your body, no matter what your body size and type are. It is about self-love. This dance is about going to your core. An American bellydancer will come into the room with her veil and with the attitude of 'love me, love me, love me. Look how beautiful I am.' The American energy is going out, out, out. She is giving it away. A Middle Eastern dancer comes into the room with an attitude that says, 'You are so lucky I am here. You are here. You are paying. You want to see me, right?' As a Middle Eastern dancer, I bring the energy in. Whatever happens after that is between you and your god. That is what I do onstage. You are saying to your beloved, 'Oh my god, I missed you. You missed me. Let's go look at the moon together.' You are taking your deepest romantic emotion, sexual emotion, out in public and there is nothing wrong with it. We are entertainers. We are supposed to be beautiful to look at, pleasurable to look at. For all the talk about 'bellydancingÇ' going onstage in the theatre, the times I have seen it in the theatre, it has lost a great deal. It is an intimate dance form and it is meant to be integrated with normal life. There is a dancer, food, drink, friends."

A staunch devotee of the dance's Egyptian cultural authenticity, Taylor continues, "The dancer is a sensual pleasure like the other sensual pleasures of life. She is also dancing for the women who can't dance but love to watch the dancers. They aren't threatened by them. Because in a Muslim household, the woman is the queen of the home. While speaking to the Austin Bellydance Association, [UT Center for Middle Eastern Studies professor] Elizabeth Fernea said, 'Sexuality is revered in the Muslim world. Female sexuality is respected. In fact, the restrictions that are placed on women's behavior are there because women are considered to be so overpoweringly sexual that men cannot control themselves.' My friends who have lived in Saudi Arabia say, 'The women dance for each other. They dance not to seduce but to share.' The dance is not aimed at men. I don't dance for men. I don't know of many women who are serious about this dance form for whom it is seductive in that way [for men]. What they are dancing for is their own expression, their own sexuality. And it goes beyond sex. It is about all of the emotions."

When asked what it would take for Middle Eastern dance to be recognized as an art form alongside ballet, modern, and jazz dance, Z-Helene replies, "I would love it if the American public understood the depth, the beauty, and the spirituality this dance has. Instead changing the name of the dance, why don't we just shift what they think of it. They need to see some really good, powerful bellydancers, so that opinion will be shifted somewhat. I would really like to see that happen. It bothers me a little bit that we are considered a fringe dance. When I think we are the original dance. We pre-date any ballet or modern or jazz. I would like to see the image of bellydancing be brought to the level of where a lot of dancers are. There are some bad ballet dancers. There are some really bad modern dancers. I consider a modern dance bad when I can't keep my eyes open. I don't care how much technique they have. They definitely seem to train harder. There are some bellydancers that don't train as hard. It is a dance form that is a little forgiving of that, because so much of it is persona and energy. It is an energy that you communicate through your aura, whereas modern dance and ballet tend to work on the technical end almost exclusively. Gesturing of the emotion is not the real thing. It is just this big gesture. [Bellydance] allows something true and real to come across that can really touch people. In my bellydance fusion, I take the true essence of what bellydance is, thousands of years old, and I interpret it for 1999. I take into account the contemporary influences. When I do my soliloquies and talk about the cycles of life, I am really speaking about the here and now. I tie in the past with the present and the future, and give a meaning to peoples' lives as I have gotten it for myself."

In conclusion, Taylor sums up Middle Eastern dance's future: "If I grew up in the Middle Eastern culture, I would not be a professional dancer. In that culture, if you dance you can be a star, but you are an outcast. The people keeping this dance alive are us, because we are not part of that culture. When I asked Morocco, world-famous Oriental dancer and ethnologist, 'Now that Lebanon is at peace and Cairo is increasingly dominated by the fundamentalists, where is this dance form going to go? Do you think it is going to be revived in Beirut?' She said to me, 'It is here, baby. We are it. We are the dance form, because we have got the money, the mindset, the energy, and the ferocious American identity. We have industrialized, commercialized, and modified it. We are it!'"

This article has ben reprinted without permission from Austin Chronicle's Weekly Wire. This article was also circulated in printed form in The Austin Chronicle. This article has not been altered except for removal of advertisements & banners and the addition of the labels of 'part one' and 'part two'. The article has been copied strictly for archival and circulation purposes. Copyright 1999 Austin Chronicle &/or Barbejoy A. Ponzio. All Rights Reserved 1999 Austin Chronicle &/or Barbejoy A. Ponzio.