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You Asked Aunt Rocky – Book Review

Tannoura Dancer Cairo

A tannoura dancer in Cairo.

The book I am reviewing in this post can be considered an authoritative source of information on Middle Eastern and Northern African dances. Its author, Carolina Varga Dinicu, better known to oriental dance enthusiasts all over the world as Morocco, or Aunt Rocky, started dancing raqs sharqi in the USA in the early 1960s. When Morocco first became interested in this dance form, there were not many performers in the USA and the dance was performed in Arabic restaurants with live music. In those days there were no formal oriental dance classes in America, so Morocco and other dancers who started at the same time had to learn on the job, from dancers who originated from the Middle east and from customers in the restaurants, who danced socially. Morocco was immediately fascinated by Middle Eastern and Northern African dances and wanted to find out more about them, from the source. Hence, in the 1960s she started travelling all over the Middle East and Northern Africa to learn the local dances and built a big wealth of knowledge. Morocco travelled to countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Greece, Iraq and Central Asia states to name a few. Everywhere she went she collected information. Back in the USA, she kept on performing professionally, teaching and she gave lecturers on the topic of Middle Eastern dances. Now, Morocco keeps on teaching in the USA and all over the world at festivals and events.

In 2011, after about 50 years of studying these dances, Morocco finally published a book that contains a lot of what she has learnt. It is a big book, of about 400 A4 sized pages, packed with insightful knowledge. I highly recommend to read it, if you are interested in going beyond the surface in your discovery of oriental dance. The book is a collection of questions that Morocco has received through online forums during her long career, and the answers that she gave, plus some more additional knowledge. This book is so insightful, that I have used it as one of the sources of data for my PhD on raqs sharqi as a form of cultural heritage.

The full title of the book is ‘You Asked Aunt Rocky: Answers & Advice about Raqs Sharqi & Raqs Shaabi’. Raqs sharqi means oriental dance in arabic, which is what many people know by the name of belly dance. Raqs sharqi is a performance type of dance, to be enjoyed by an audience watching. Raqs shaabi instead, means dance of the people, and it includes participatory forms of dance, done by ordinary people in social settings. Raqs shaabi can also be identified as folklore.

Folkloric dance Egypt

Folkloric dance performance in Cairo.

Aunt Rocky’s book includes information about a variety of Middle Eastern and Northern African dances, from countries where Morocco has travelled, as well as practical tips and advice, for example on using finger cymbals, teaching and working. Sections include:

  • A short biography of the author.
  • A section about raqs shaabi (folkloric dance) in different Northern African and Middle Eastern countries. Morocco describes in details all these dances, including clothing and decorations worn by dancers and the social occasions during which these dances are performed. This section includes an interesting interview with Mahmoud Reda.
  • Information about Sharqi or so called Oriental dance, where Aunt Rocky separates fantasies from the truth.
  • A section about the countries of origin of the dances that Morocco studied in her life, with information on the different genres and styles of dance, including some cultural background.
  • A very useful section with practical information for dancers, such as teaching, technique, working as a professional dancer and using finger cymbals.
  • A section containing extra tales, personal experiences and various bits of information.
  • Reflections on names to be used for these dances and misconception and misinformation that still exists about oriental dance.
  • Photographs of dancers that Morocco has taken during her trips.

Morocco’s book can be purchased on Amazon:

Interview with Morocco

Find out more about Morocco on her website www.casbahdance.org

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