I blogged this week about a novel I am doing research for and today that research resulted in a picture from long ago and a trove of memories from way back in time. One of the characters in this book is named Astarte Safiya and she is a Ghawazi dancer descended from the Nawar people of Egypt. Back in the 1980s, when I was studying danse Oriental and taking classes and workshops, one of the most revered teachers of that time was a man named Ibrahim Farrah. Everyone called him “Bobby” and he was a magnificent dancer.
Today, as I was watching YouTube videos of various Middle Eastern dances, I came across a video of Amoura Latif dancing Bobby's choreography for a Cafe Dance. I hadn't thought of Bobby in years and, with a little bit of research, I discovered he died in 1998—such a loss to the world of Middle Eastern Dance.
It's a funny thing how I even got into dancing in the first place. A friend and I had decided to take an evening watercolor class for six weeks, but when we went to sign up, the class was full. We looked at the list of available classes and one was Intro to Belly Dance. Out of sheer silliness we signed up. My friend quit after two classes. I kept dancing for five years. In fact when I decided to leave Houston and move to Maine, my going-away party was held in the belly dance studio and dozens of dancers came to dance with and for me in farewell.
|Penn State's The Corner Room|
I was not a particularly accomplished dancer but I loved it. As a big, blond, American woman of German heritage I often thought I had no business doing this sort of dance. But every time I danced in public it was the Middle Eastern men who would praise and encourage me. These beautiful, copper-skinned, dreamy-eyed men would scream and clap and go crazy when I danced. They'd call “you're beautiful, I love you!” It was heady, addictive stuff. Bobby was like that. He could make you feel like you were the most desirable creation ever.
The first time I met him something sort of wonderful happened. He was coming to Houston to teach a workshop and needed a ride from the airport to the dance studio. His plane was arriving late at night and I offered to go pick him up. I only knew him by reputation so I was excited. He came off the plane, a handsome, but very normal looking guy in jeans and a white dress shirt—no elaborate costumes for something as ordinary as a plane ride.
|My dancing days|
As we headed back to Houston I asked if there was anything he needed. He said that, actually, he was starving and would love to stop at a restaurant. So I took him to a favorite place of mine in River Oaks. It was a cozy, charming place with high-backed wooden booths and a good variety of dishes. We ordered and he proved to be a delightful dinner companion. When we were about to leave he leaned back, looked around, and said, “I love this place. It reminds me of a place I hung out at when I was in college.” Really? I said. Where was that? “It was called The Corner Room. It was right across the street from campus,” he said.
I stared at him. Penn State? I managed at last. “Yes.” He grinned. “Have you been there?” I graduated from Penn State and spent a lot of time at The Corner Room. We were instant buddies—two Penn State alums in the far-off land of Texas.
For the rest of the weekend, at any given moment Bobby would begin singing “Fight On, State” just to make me laugh. I danced in the final show of that weekend and I drove him back to the airport. It was such a wonderful experience.
So now my dancing days are over. Bobby is gone from this earth. But I have Astarte Safiya to create and I look forward to the experience.
|Bobby performing with Dahlena at Club Cleopatra, Sacramento California, 1964.|