4 de junho de 2015

ENTREVISTAS - RHEA por Phaedra Ameerah

Uma entrevista de Rhea of Atenas, Grécia 
por Phaedra Ameerah 

Phaedra Ameerah - O meu primeiro encontro com a lendária Rhea aconteceu em outubro de 1995, enquanto viaja em Atenas, Grécia. Rhea foi gentil o suficiente comigo e meus companheiros de viagem, nos levando ao redor da cidade e para todos os pontos certos de música e dança. Conhecê-la foi o destaque de nossa viagem. Pedi-lhe para nos dizer sobre sua carreira de dança na Califórnia e sobre sua decisão de se mudar para a Grécia. Ela contou sobre sua vida e aventuras, como segue: 

Rhea - Eu decidi me mudar para Atenas depois de um período de férias para o meu trigésimo quinto aniversário em dezembro de 1976, eu havia feito uma cirurgia e não poderia dançar ou dar aulas pelos próximos dois meses. Eu tinha dizimado a pequena quantidade de poupança que eu tinha e fiquei sem nenhuma fonte de renda. 

Eu me estava obcecada com a ideia de que devia ir para a Grécia. Eu não tinha dinheiro, mas comecei a fazer planos para ir mesmo assim. Duas coisas me ajudaram a acumular os meios financeiros para agilizar a viagem. 

Primeiro eu recebi algum dinheiro de uma fonte inesperada, que me permitiu ir não só para a Grécia, mas para o Egito também. Essa fonte era um príncipe da Arábia Saudita, Ibn Al Saud MusaabMusaab era cliente regular da Casbah, pertencente na época por Fadil Shahin que tocava Oud e violino, além de cantar, acompanhado por Jallalladin Takesh, agora proprietário do restaurante Pasha em San Francisco, Califórnia. Príncipe Musaab sempre foi generoso com suas gorjetas. 

Nós, bailarinas compartilhavamos nossas gorjetas com a banda, os quais tinham visão microscópica. Então, quando Musaab queria impressionar minhas novas alunas e os outras dançarinas que estavam dançando na Broadway naquele tempo, ele colocava uma nota de cem dólares em uma "nota de cinco libras" e entregava para a menina me dar para mim como gorjeta. 

Ele estava tentando impressionar uma jovem linda em um restaurante de peixe em Sausalito, onde tínhamos ido para o almoço. Ao ouvir-me explicar-lhe que gostaria de ir para a Grécia, ele ficou estarrecido. "O quê? Você vai ir para a Grécia, e você não vai visitar o Egito?" Ao explicar os meus recursos financeiros limitados, ele fez um gesto expansivo de puxar um rolo de centenas de dólares do bolso e descascando dez deles. Os olhos da jovem pularam! "Tome isso, mas você deve ir para o Egito." Ele disse. O que eu devidamente e obedientemente fiz. 

O segundo impulso de sorte foi conhecer Marliza Pons no concurso Belly Dancer of the Year Pageant, promovido pelo falecido Sula, onde nós duas éramos juízas. Descobriu-se que o minha aluna, Selene, ganhou naquele ano, e Marliza teve a chance de ver a minha trupe, Nara Nata, em ação. Isso levou-a a convidar-nos para dançar em Las Vegas, ministrar um seminário e fazer show em clubes. Nós também levamos Fadil Shahin, pois queríamos ter a certeza da qualidade de musicalidade. Naji Aziz participou desse seminário e decidiu me trazer a Salt Lake City para ensinar. A cidade era um viveiro de apaixonados aficionados da dança do ventre, que até hoje são defensores ávidos, como Jason Yasmina, que em sua maioria desfrutavam do "estilo antigo". Esses seminários e shows,  me forneceram o dinheiro para minha passagem para a Grécia. 


Some would ask me to explain why I didn't choose Cairo over Athens. That is a long story, fit for another time. Suffice it to say that I had a dream that I was dancing in the Greek theater, after seeing Melina Mercouri there, addressing us students with passion to save Greece from the then existing junta. I had also studied Greek mythology and had read the Odyssey and the Aenead. This was a prerequisite for my major, psychology, and also for my minor, English literature. But I always loved fairy stories and had checked out every fairy story from the library when I was a child. Archetypes have always fascinated me, although at a level that I had not been previously able to identify. Greek mythology, however, captured my imagination as no Grimm's fairy tale ever did.

I wanted to breathe the rarified air that Socrates, Homer, and Plato breathed. Now I have been living here ever since Easter of 1977, under the shade of the Parthenon and Acropolis.

But no matter what my romantic inclinations were, I probably wouldn't have left San Francisco at all if things were still as they were in their heyday. San Francisco teamed with exotic night life and after hours clubs. People went from one club to another: Casbah, Bagdad, Greek Taverna, Minerva Taverna, and Plaka Taverna. If they could still stand, they crossed the San Francisco Bay Bridge to go the Jack London Square and take in the Taverna Athena, where the Farfisa player kept a gun under his electric organ in case any irate, cuckolded husbands wanted to get even.

There are no words to describe those days. All that was missing was Al Capone and bathtub gin. My goodness, we had fun in those days of wine and roses. And money! The dancers wore furs (before that became a social taboo, although people still wear leather shoes), had salon hairdos, wore designer dresses, and bought Parisienne perfume. We took pride in making our own costumes. We went out for breakfast with the high rollers after the show and got together for two-martini lunches to discuss any gossip we might have missed in the preceding eight hours. Would I leave San Francisco then? No way!

However, things change, as things have a habit of doing. As the old poem goes, "Love is rare, and life is strange, and nothing lasts, and people change."

People at that time blamed it on the recession. "People don't have money." "Times are tough." It's almost always societal changes and changing tastes. What was so wildly flamboyantly "in" began to die slowly. No one else saw her, but mythic Cassandra spoke in my ear, beckoning me with her bony fateful finger. I heeded her call. I got out while the getting was good.

I think courage and bravery are, in many instances, a denial of, or a reaction to, fear. Yellow is both the color of courage and fear, just as the yellow sun represents courage and yellow bellied is a noted term for fear and cowardice. And to say that I felt no fear would be wrong.

But I'm one of those funny people who would rather die on my feet that live on my knees, and I couldn't live knowing that I really wanted to do something and that I was afraid to do it. Better to do it and die that to want to and pine away.

The old guard dies but never surrenders.

As Nikos Kazantzakis says in his prologue to "Report to Greco," addressing his mythological grandfather, El Greco, who was also from Iraklion, Crete, "Grandfather, when I have completed the ascent (his allegory for life) and they examine my body, know you well that there shall be no wounds in my back." Both El Greco and Kazantzakis hailed from Crete, an island famous for defiance of tyranny. He also said that there are three kinds of prayers:
(1) "Lord, I am a bow. Draw me lest I rot."
(2) "Lord, I am a bow. Draw me lest I rot, but don't draw me too tight, lest I break.
(3) "Lord, I am a bow. Draw me as you wish and who cares if I break."
I guess that you have gathered which prayer that this Sagittarian archer lives by.

As the Greeks say when they are in their cups, "Spas ta olla!" (Break everything! Who cares about tomorrow? We live for today!)

So while other belly dancers can say that they got their first exposure to Oriental Dance of "haflas" and the like, this belly dancer didn't have such exposure. It was from my teacher, Jamila Salimpour, taking us innocent initiates to the clubs to see the dancers that gave me my first taste of Mediterranean culture, and led me to a life of travel and adventure.

As the oldest child of five, I used to take my brothers and sisters in a wagon ride far from our neighborhood. We had sandwiches for provisions and they had to first swear to secrecy, on pain of death and no future trips.

My parents would have had a heart attack if they knew! We always encountered hostile boys who would challenge us to our right to be in "their" territory.

They would ask, "Where are you going, little girl?"
"Around."
"Yeah, around to your own block."
"Why?"
"Because we say so."
"We don't want to."
"Well, you have to."
"Well, you and what army is going to make us?"

This was when the proverbial commodity always hit the fan. At that point we turned the wagon sideways, where I made the little ones crouch behind it and I had it out with them. It was usually hand to hand, because I could never throw straight. I knew those boys could throw a rock straight, but not if they were physically disabled. Although I never started one, I never lost a physical fight, and I felt as though I must have come from a race of amazons. But when I became fourteen years old, the boys got seriously bigger than the girls and our fights stopped.

I have always believed in names, and my given name is Deanna. Which is Latin for Artemis, Queen of the Amazons, Archer Supreme, and fearless protectoress of women in childbirth, small children, and the helpless. It was thought before I was born that I would be a boy (from various signs that people were able to glean in 1941), my parents were ready to name me David. Even if I had been a boy, I would have grown up to slay Goliath. Maybe courage was "bred in the bone," and proclaimed to be my destiny. I was also very much like the myth of Atalantis, who was thrown away by her father (who wanted a boy) and who was left to die on the hillside and was raised by wolves. She went on to become a fast runner and sure archer. Her fame spread, and her father took her back, but insisted that she marry. She didn't want to marry and said that whoever would become her husband would have to win her in a race. If he won, all well and good, but if he lost, she would kill him.

When I was still young, every boy who was desirous of becoming my boyfriend had to beat me in a fight. None ever did, until I became fourteen.

I think that one of the things nowadays that confounds people is the quest for the "good life." This tends to be true particularly for people living in a western industrialized and computerized society. It is often thought that education, and particularly higher education will provide an instant key to the "good life" which will be rendered unto us by obtaining a "good job." Presumably a "good job" is a well paying job, and one that is respected by society in general.

In the words of Thoreau, "Where is Walden Pond?" "Where is the contemplative life? " "Where is the road less traveled?"

I could go on, but my main point is that being an Oriental Dancer is an exemplary life choice. It gives one an excellent chance to study life as it is, not as we would wish to re-write it to live in a sanitized world. Once you've taken on the dragon of entertainment and "show-biz", academia is rendered more accessible by having lived, much like Miss Gootch said in the play "Auntie Mame."

Phaedra- I told Rhea her name was very beautiful and unique, and asked from where she obtained it.

Rhea- Jamila Salimpour, my dance teacher, gave me the name "Rhea" in 1968. At that time, she was placing particular emphasis on the fact that Oriental Dance evolved from pre-historic, matriarchal times. She explained that goddesses were worshiped in those times. Rhea was the name of an ancient mother goddess. Rhea was the wife of Chronos (father time) and the mother of Zeus. It is instructive to understand that in more ancient times, time itself was not looked at linearly but circularly. Along with patriarchal religion came an understanding of linear time and death. The main reason I have kept the name is that when Jamila gave the name, I immediately became pregnant after seven years of barrenness. I assumed that it was Kismet. In the '60s we were all into living our dreams, and my dance name and the dance itself opened up new dreams for me that previously I had not dared to dream!

My daughters, Piper, (the eldest) and Melinda, (the youngest) have danced since Piper was seven years old (when I first started taking lessons) and Melinda was only two. They were in various performing companies I have directed, and they have traveled with me from the age of seven and fourteen. Melinda's father was with a family circus as well as the San Francisco Mime Troupe and Melinda learned acrobatics, juggling, balancing on the shoulders of people, and other circus acts. She was a regular performer with the circus from an early age and still performs with her step-mother in a travelling circus as a Belly Dancer who is reviled by the early puritans who tried to chase away the "Hootchy-Kootchy" dancers at the Chicago World's Fair. Melinda began dancing with me in my troupe at the age of two and used to dance with me every night at my jobs in family tavernas and tourist tavernas in Athens since the age of nine, under the benign and watchful eyes of the spirits who also watch over the Acropolis. Piper went on long Pullman rides to perform in luxury hotels outside Athens from the age of fifteen. We were always respected and treated very properly.

We were the only trained Oriental Dancers in all of Greece.

The American Belly Dance style has a high emphasis on entertainment and a display of technical virtuosity. The dance is universally well-received and a popular dance anywhere in the world. We were seen by literally millions of tourists. I've had people send me my picture in Russian and Chinese magazines, and African trade journals. I've met people in Montreal that saw me in Khartoum, and people in Barcelona who saw me in Athens.

My children have also danced Greek folk dances in costume with a local performing group, dancing for the tourists in Plaka. They also formed a duet when Melinda, the youngest, was fifteen, and danced in all the Arabic Middle Eastern night clubs that proliferated at that time due to the unfortunate situation in Lebanon and other war-torn countries. It was a time during which many people were forced to leave their homeland, and many of them came to Greece. Of course, they wanted to hear their music and dance their dances, and always it was difficult to bring a dancer from their country. So my daughters were a perfect act, being two, being professional and having many costume changes. Their special act was seen by many and incorporated into the repertoire of a popular Middle Eastern comedian who put them in his night club act. Big money rolled in, as well as television contracts and movie parts.

This money went towards financing education at universities for them. They began by paying themselves and later were able to apply for scholarships, proving that beauty, brains, good character, and Oriental Dance can go very well together. Melinda now has a Doctorate Degree in Medieval French Literature and Piper is about to take her Doctorate Degree in Human Genetics from John Hopkins University.

The pursuit of higher education forced them to abandon their dance careers for awhile, but they are now beginning to perform again and to teach. I am proud to say that they are much better than I am or was, although for my time, I certainly was among the front runners. One good thing that both my daughters believe that they have received from their unusual careers, is the ability to deal with just about any situation and some of the more rarified creatures one encounters in the academic world.

Phaedra- I found Rhea's dance career fascinating and asked her when she began to dance.

Rhea- My dance background started unfolding at an early age but developed very slowly. I used to try to walk on my toes and consistently fell on my nose. As I am the oldest child of five children, brought up without a large cash flow, there was no extra money for dance lessons! However, I was able to participate in community dance programs where we children did "creative dance." I always wanted to play the role of the snake, which I discovered is my Chinese horoscope (1941). I used to organize circuses in which I made all the games, tickets, drinks, etc. and dance for the neighborhood children. When we had family gatherings, we children were always trotted out to recite poems, sing, dance and perform small plays. I was always chosen to do whatever dance there was at school plays, and when we studied American Indians in the second grade, I was the only child who could do step-hop, step-hop, throw my head up and down, while covering my mouth with my hand to give what was considered in those politically incorrect times, an "Indian War Whoop," all at the same time. Although I always won rock and roll contests, and generally enjoy any kind of dance, if I hadn't met Jamila, I never would have considered a professional dance career, let alone a professional Belly Dance career!

I learned about Jamila through the student newspaper at the University of California, Berkeley campus where I was a secretary, trying to save money to continue my education.

At that time Jamila was calling this dance, belly dancing, with particular emphasis on the fact that the belly movements symbolize childbirth (and I defy anyone to deny this or to prove otherwise). That's what I also call it, although as far as I'm concerned, you can call it whatever you like as long as you dance.

"Dah rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Gertrude Stein.

Of course, if you dance it well, so much the better. In my more mature age, I have learned not to care so much about this, and to let life take of itself, and for me to take care of myself. If some dancers are rewarded by life or society whom I don't consider the very best proponents, well, God is great, as the Muslims and the Greeks say, and who am I to say anything contrary?

I should point out that I had planned for myself a career as a psychologist, or something in the field of psychology or psychotherapy. When we were students during the sixties, we used to participate in anti-war demonstrations, sit-ins and general societal insurrection. My second ex-husband's band, the "Cleanliness and Godliness Skiffle Band," used to be the warm up band for Joan Baez concerts, and any other anti-war performer. Before he went on to be back-up guitar player in Joe Macdonald's group, "Country Joe and the Fish," I used to dance with them as a pregnant belly dancer, and was delighted that I chose to do this at that time.

Suffice it to say that I was arrested and put in jail for on offence that today would not be considered a felony. However, in those troubled times was viewed as very frightening to society in general, and I was prohibited from ever becoming a teacher, a psychologist, etc.

Today, this judicial record has been expunged, but I have always been grateful that this unfortunate thing happened, even though it meant the loss of my oldest child for two years, and many other things whose pain has fortunately been ameliorated with the years. I have also come to believe that God is great and has a plan for everyone, and that we must try to realize by the outcome of things how to look at the whole and to not moan and groan about what might have been.

So my main introduction to the dance and major inspiration, one might even say mentor, was Jamila. I have often said that if I had first been introduced to the dance by anyone else, even my own self, I would have not have been drawn to it. She had that quality that made you want to emulate and follow her. I had never met anyone like her before or since. That she lived her life as she did, and had born a child after the age of forty, was unheard about and something that I had never encountered.

I started dancing professionally in San Francisco in 1969, three weeks after Melinda was born, and one month short of closing one year of lessons. Jamila told me that I had talent and introduced me to night clubs. As hippies, we did a lot of "be-ins" and "sit-ins" and social gatherings, but these were usually day time activities. I had never been in a night club in my life, except when we went after high school graduation to the requisite night club and sat in the special seats where you don't drink alcohol. There was a circuit of clubs on Broadway and every dancer tried to perform as many nights as possible in one or another of them.

The goal was to be one of the weekend dancers, as the best dancers had the weekends and the most week nights as well. Some girls consistently prowled the extended circuit, going to New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and Canada. Other dancers remained loyal to one club or another. Since I had kids, I tried to be a weekend dancer and teach during the week.

My teacher had a large and faithful following and was a major presence in the existing dance community. I saw that it was the only way to create and practice dance, while remaining economically viable. A following meant that when the boss wanted to replace me with a young luscious curvy cutie, people would complain and threaten not to come anymore. I had eight years of constant growth and change. I was constantly trying to be innovative and stay ahead of the main herd.


What exhilaration! What fun! Oh, never-to-be-seen-again days!



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