Monday, March 31, 2014

MECDA 1977 – 2014 The End of an Era


It is the end of an era for the local organization in Los Angeles known as MECDA – The Middle Eastern Culture and Dance Association has closed its doors – so to speak – as of April 1, 2014.

I was there when the organization was formed back in 1977. 
(Scroll to bottom to view an application form circa 1978)  
I don’t know that it was the first belly dance organization, but it was one of the first. The original name of the club – and the one most of us preferred - was Middle Eastern Cabaret Dancers Association. It was formed originally as a union for working dancers.  I remember well the belly dancers such as Feiruz picketing with signs in hand outside nightclubs in Hollywood. The membership at the beginning was limited to working nightclub dancers, but that soon changed and membership was open to all.

Quickly the club started to present workshops and the festival, later known as Cairo Carnival.  Every year we looked forward to hanging out with our belly dancer friends, performing and shopping at our own local festival here in L.A.

The other great benefit from MECDA was the Cymbal magazine and the monthly Happenings. The Happenings kept us informed of any workshops and events for that month.

As the organization grew, it started local chapters.  I belonged to one of the first ones: The High Desert Chapter.  I never did live in the high desert, (I lived in the San Fernando Valley) but the dancer who ran it – Sue Turner - was looking for members and I guess she considered the San Fernando Valley was close enough. Soon I was a board member for the chapter and I attended the monthly board meetings for years. We sometimes had a booth at Cairo Carnival.

I became much less active in MECDA when I formed IAMED in 1996, as that took up all my time, spare and otherwise.  I was there as a regular vendor at Cairo Carnival starting in 1997 promoting all things IAMED. 

About 5-6 years ago I sat down with some of the board members of MECDA. It had been more than a decade since I had attended one of their meetings. I can’t remember if I was invited or I just invited myself to the meeting.  At that time they were looking at folding it up.  They were experiencing some problems including the fact that some board members were burnt out after volunteering much of their spare time for many, many years to MECDA.  They were short on quality people who wanted to keep it going.  I can’t remember some of the other issues, but I went to the meeting to help with solutions so that MECDA would continue to function and hold events, etc.

Well, it did keep going, as least for several more years, but the problems unfortunately multiplied, mainly mismanagement by a new leader.
(They should have listened to me.)

For me personally, I think it will take me a couple of years to believe that MECDA is gone. It was big part of my life for decades.  I find the demise of MECDA incredibly sad. I do have my pictures and memories of the good times. I only hope in the coming years a new and exciting version of MECDA will form in Los Angeles.

And don’t worry about IAMED.  As long as I’m still breathing we’ll be here annoying you for years to come.

Suzy Evans       BellyDance.org

 *****

You can view the final MECDA letter by going to www.mecda.org
Or just read it here below:

Dear Dancers and MECDA Supporters,
This is a really hard letter to write, but we believe we owe it to you to be as transparent as possible about MECDA, an organization you have long supported. As an organization that was founded in the 1970s, it has had a storied history promoting and sharing Middle Eastern dance culture for over four decades. MECDA has touched and inspired many of us to start dancing and performing.

In 2013, MECDA underwent a massive leadership shift in a strong attempt to reinvigorate the organization. Previous long­running financial mismanagement, poor organizational leadership and lack of adherence to norms of nonprofit management led to a perfect storm: MECDA had become a nonprofit organization serving a dance community that had long lost its faith in it.

It is a body blow that few nonprofits can recover from, even though the newly constituted Central Board, a small, committed group of people, worked long hours putting their time, energy and financial health on the line to bring MECDA back from the brink.

But sometimes when something is broken, it is really broken and can’t be fixed. The new Board has tried over the past twelve months to right wrongs, pay people back, develop better financial and business organization, rebuild our online community and plan a better Cairo Caravan. However, in December, MECDA was notified by the IRS that due to a lack of tax filings since 2010, MECDA had lost its tax­exempt—and therefore nonprofit—status. We stared into the abyss and it stared back.

We realized it would take $20,000 MECDA didn’t have to run Cairo Caravan with no guarantee that we would break even this year whilst working through a heavy backlog of debts accumulated under the previous leadership. In a constrained economic climate, dance festival attendance is dropping across the board. MECDA membership has been dropping precipitously in recent years, and the hollowed out membership base has made the organization’s position untenable.

We knew a year ago that Cairo Caravan would be the event that would either herald a new start for MECDA or the moment where we re­evaluated MECDA’s continued existence. As the Central Board, we have to do what is most responsible for the organization and for the community. Therefore, we are canceling Cairo Caravan and are folding MECDA, effective April 1, 2014.

MECDA may not have been well managed in the past few years, but we are determined to wind it down in the most responsible way we can. With the cash we have on hand, we will pay back people who invested Cairo Caravan most heavily, starting with workshop ticket holders and gala ticket holders, instructors and vendors. The details of how we will rectify the financial picture will be communicated individually. MECDA Chapters will be responsible for disbursing what is remaining in their local coffers in a locally appropriate manner, whether it is donating to a local good cause, reinvesting it into a community event, or paying off any remaining debts. We are doing this because you deserved better, whether you were a MECDA member, previous festival attendee, or a member of the dance community. You deserve a Middle Eastern dance nonprofit organization that was as relevant and meaningful to you in 2014 as MECDA was in 1977, and you deserve nonprofit leadership that is accountable and responsive.

If you have questions, please contact president@mecda.org and the entire Central Board will read and discuss your concerns and may be addressed publicly.
We know that this is a difficult time for all of us, but we appreciate your patience and consideration as we try to set things as right as we wind down MECDA.

See you on the horizon, Rom, Tim, Barbara and Rosa

MECDA Application Form

MECDA Application Form

Monday, January 27, 2014

BellyDance.org 15th Anniversary

It occurred to me just a few weeks ago that we were coming up on an important anniversary that happens this week. On January 31st 1999 I purchased the domain name BellyDance.org.  Within weeks BellyDance.org went live. 

The International Academy of Middle Eastern Dance aka IAMED did have an internet presence prior to 1999. In the early days of the internet there were small internet companies that for a small fee would add you to there site. In this case their was company called Web Access that taught basic website design in the San Fernando Valley. I was living in North Hollywood at the time and my boyfriend Terry took a couple of classes from the company.  We set up the original website under WebAccess.com/bellydance (no need to look at it, it's long gone and the company sold off their domain name years ago). The site was several pages and contained all the basic information about IAMED. I only have vague memories of the original design but it was very rudimentary and by today's standards would look very dated. 

Since 1999 we have grown from just a few pages to many, many pages of information, videos, store and more.  Since it's inception it has consistently been one of the most popular belly dance websites on the internet. 

It seems quite strange that it has been 15 years. Didn't we just celebrate the 10th anniversary?  

Over the years BellyDance.org has gone through several re-designs and will likely go through another one by the end of this year making for an even more exciting website experience including more articles, reviews, lots of beautiful photos and my blog. 


Mychelle
Photo by Javier Padilla



Thursday, October 31, 2013

Before Egypt Was

A couple of weeks ago I attended an art show in Culver City. I only took a few photos while there.  This was one of them. I found this piece very interesting.




Before Egypt Was
Eduard Buk Ulreich
Oil on Canvas, Circa 1940

Monday, October 28, 2013

Brain-ella - The Belly Dancing Brain


Brain-ella – The Belly Dancing Brain

Recently I was reminded of one of the times I was the MC for a belly dance event. During the 1990s I was the MC for a monthly showcase in Studio City at The Marrakesh restaurant and sometimes would MC other events.

I unexpectedly ran into Anisa earlier this month at a non-belly dance show in North Hollywood.  Anisa produces the dinner show King Tut Returns every October. This year marks her 18th anniversary of the show. Incredible!  Time flies by too fast.

I was the MC for the show the first couple of years. The first year I MCed as Elvis and second year I was myself except that the show started off with my friend Brain-ella.  Yes, Brain-ella.  She was yet another of my crazy creations, this one especially for Halloween.

I found a high quality rubber-like brain at a store - not one of those cheap plastic kind of brains. Since brains are brains and have no limbs or a torso; the only way I could give her a belly dance costume was wrapping a silver sequins belt around her middle. I then sat her on a stool on the stage.

The script for the show is either lost or stuck in a box in storage somewhere but basically it went like this:

“Hello, I am Brain-ella; the belly dancing brain. Yes, I know I don’t have legs and arms to dance, but I do have great rhythm, I can even shimmy if I try real hard.  Don’t you love my costume?  I designed it myself.

Brain-ella is not my real name. It’s my dance name. We belly dancers always have a dance name. I did consider other dance names such as:  Sarah-Bellum, Thala-mus, and my favorite: Medulla Oblongata.  
Please do enjoy the show.”

I bet the belly dancers that happen to also be brain surgeons reading this are just doubled over in laughter right now.

Unfortunately I don’t think I have any pictures of Brain-ella, but I do have some great memories.  Have a great Halloween! 

Brain-ella looked something like this, but more awesome...with a very nice sequin belt.



Please pay us a visit at BellyDance.org

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Joyous Debke Dance!


The Joyous Debke Dance!

If you have experienced Middle Eastern Dance for any length of time or gone to an Arabic night club you have probably seen and experienced an energetic and fascinating dance called the Dabke. I refer to it as the most joyous dance in the world! 

According to one folk tradition, the dance originated in the Levant where houses were built from stone with a roof made of wood, straw and dirt. The dirt roof had to be compacted which required stomping the dirt hard in a uniform way to compact it evenly. This event of cooperation is called ta'awon and from here comes the word awneh, meaning "help." This developed into the song Ala Dalouna, or roughly translated "Let's go and help". The dabke and the rhythmic songs go together in an attempt to keep the work fun and useful.

I didn’t realize there were numerous ways to spell Dabke. I’d been spelling it “Debke”, which is one of many ways to spell it.

The word Dabke is also transliterated to"dabka","dabki", "dabkeh", "debke", "debkah", "debki", "debka" is an Arab folk dance native to the levant.

The dance is popular in Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan, Bosnia, Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. A line dance, it is widely performed at weddings and joyous occasions. The line forms from right to left. The leader of the dabke heads the line, alternating between facing the audience and the other dancers. 

World Record Debke:
In August 2011, a group in a Lebanese village Dhour El Choueir, Lebanon set a new world record. Organized by Dhour El Choueir Summer Festival, a human chain of 5,050 was made and currently holds the world record.
Dhour El Choueir event broke the record set by Tollab, Lebanese Student Federation in Montreal, with the participation of "La Troupe Folklorique Les Chevaliers du Liban" that had made a human chain of 4,475 people dancing the dabke for more than five minutes straight at Montreal's Marcelin Wilson Park.
Tollab had itself broken a record of 2,743 set by a group of Israeli Arabs in Acre, Israel. An earlier record of 1,700 had been set in Toronto.

Guys doing the Debke!

Everybody doing the Dabke!
Visit us at BellyDance.org

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Top Tips to Get Belly Dance Gigs


Top Tips to Get Belly Dance Gigs

These gigs would apply to performing at parties, restaurants and teaching.

Here they are in no specific order:

1.   Personal networking - Attend local events of any kind, business and social. Be sure to have plenty of business cards to hand out. Don’t just limit yourself to the dance community; everyone is a potential employer.
2.   Social Media – You need at least a FaceBook account. Add and interact with new friends that are both in and out of the belly dance world.
3.   Call and pay personal visits to: Gyms, dance studios, restaurants, other dancers, and friends old and new.
4.   Make partners with other dancers you admire and respect. Collaboration can only help your career in dance.


Visit us at BellyDance.org

Monday, September 23, 2013

Ruth St Denis ~ An Inspiration to All Dancers


Ruth St Denis ~ Inspiration to All Dancers


“It is not a question of who dances but of who or what does not dance.” – Ruth St Denis

I’ve been interested and intrigued by Ruth St Denis since I was a teenager. While she was not a belly dancer, her ethnic inspired choreographies gave rise to an interest in ethnic dance in the United States. 

She was teacher to dance immortals Ted Shawn, Martha Graham, Lillian Powell and Evan Burrows Fontaine.

Ruth St. Denis married Ted Shawn and together they created “Denishawn” known as the cradle of American modern dance. Ruth and Ted also created the legendary dance festival known as “Jacob’s Pillow”.

In the late 1990s I paid a visit to Valentina Oumansky’s Dance Foundation on Cahuenga Boulevard next to the Hollywood Hills.  This was the same and last studio where Ruth St. Denis taught up until her death in 1968. I remember Ms Oumansky telling me that Ruth St Denis like to be referred to as Miss Ruth.

If you are just discovering Ruth St Denis, please learn more about her.  She was a true original. 

“The real message of the Dance opens up the vistas of life to all who have the urge to express beauty with no other instrument than their own bodies, with no apparatus and no dependence on anything other than space.” – Ruth St Denis

Please visit our website BellyDance.org