Alternative Worlds of the Past: The Stories of the Courtesan, Across Cultures and Times   1 comment

Alternative Worlds of the Past: The Stories of the Courtesan, Across Cultures and Times.

“The Courtesan was one of the most accomplished woman of her time, she was well-read, well-educated and well-mannered at a time when most women could do no more than read a psaltery and bear children….”

(www.tempestdesigns.com/courtesan)

Introduction : An Overview- A context and background to discussing the worlds of the courtesan .

1.

I felt compelled to write about the worlds, cultures and histories of the Courtesan, at a time, when in the developed world,  many women have  economic and educational freedoms which some may take for granted, now, and yet across the world, many women are  not only still fighting  be able to work safely ,  to be free  from exploitation,  and have to access to good quality health care, but  to learn how to  fundamentally, read and write, which is is the bottom line  to the whole process of human social  and historical  change .

My question is, is  there a danger of all of us being very complacent, when the right to literacy, economic freedom and social freedom/civil rights have been hard worn, more so, when extreme/absolute poverty exists for at least 3/4 of the world’s population? Or, on a more deeper level, is our education creating consumers out of us?

Even in  developed countries,  for example, in the UK, right now,  as I write, despite having the bottom line of universal education, many young women are being influenced by consumerist ideas, and in attaining consumer status and values, that, on one level is seductive.

In the long term , this is not empowering, I think, because  it forces many people, men and women to stop using their minds , to stop thinking for themselves, to stop being and doing creatively , intelligently and intuitively. The bottom line, education, as old fashioned as it sounds, should pave the way for  better way of life for all- a passport to opportunities, better economic, social and hopefuly emotional health, for the whole of society. Maybe, the education system in many developing countries is preparing people to be just consumerists, as opposed to citizens in the full sense of the word.

Although, I may be digressing here, this has everything  to do with why I am exploring the lives of courtesans and it is with a sense of irony ,  contrasting  how mass industrialisation and economic development, along with educational  and health access /growth has impacted humanity, and women in particular, at this very point in time.

21st century consumerism/capitalism, in  developed countries as a continuation from  the 1800’s, for me, seems to suggest, what you buy is what you are; buying expensive /designer labels, luxury cars, homes, more expensive holidays, even in some cases paying for a more and more hedonistic lifestyle: money brings choices of how to spend . And on another level, we have reality TV shows, where celebrity or notoriety are gained- viewers watching voraciously.

The spin-off of these reality shows include shows where one is pitted against others and voted off, after failing to complete tasks/skills, techniques successfully or expected, to learn a new skill in a matter of weeks……….. Cultures of superficiality, a bit of fun, equal opportunity for being famous for 15 minutes, as Andy Warhol predicted? Perhaps, I am looking at the more negative aspects of this, when maybe I should be recalling the positive : better health care and medication / better housing/ improved life expectancy, huge leaps in social awareness/ tolerance/ greater appreciation of human diversity (fighting against racism/sexism/ageism/ homophobia and so on) greater social/individual control of one’s life/destiny,  better rights for women and so on….across the centuries.  but something sits uneasily here, with me, so I need to explore it.

2

Whatever it is, the Courtesan existed, across cultures and across times, until fairly recently, when so much of the female population, at any one time,across the world, lived in dire, appalling poverty. My opening quote speaks volumes:  that is, that was the courtesan.

Women did not have the mass education, as we do, across the developed world now, and  I asked the question about complacency,  in light of  the female  poverty that existed with constant pregnancies, death in childbirth, rearing surviving children, dying of infectious diseases and enduring the daily grind of life: the courtesan could move above all of that and stand boldly against the stark deck of cards dealt.

A courtesan’s life , with her education, good manners, etiquette,  cultural/political/ literary knowledge, social skills(be they sensual, conversational) speaks of life not framed by a consumerist agenda, as we are so used to now.  More often that not, the courtesan lived a very dangerous life, and had  to live by her quick wits and skills, and use her talents wisely and gracefully. Indeed education, for the courtesan, paved the way for greater social possibilities and futures for her,whether it was in Ancient Athens, 16th century Venice, the Songhai Empire in Western Africa or in 9th century Korea.

Many could argue, a courtesan is no more than a glamorous prostitute  (  eccentricyoruba) and no one would advocate a woman be a courtesan now.  She was more often not, not accepted in “polite societies”, was considered too independant, too wayward, too wild, too intelligent to live a conventional life, in the society she happened to operate in. A courtesan while higher in status than a slave and prostitute, was still considered lower class, but a courtesan “composed poetry..sang…danced and played instruments” (eccentric yoruba)

However, I suspect that there is a lot more to the courtesan than  face value and aim  to show examples of very highly intelligent, powerful, independant women and the backgrounds which fostered them.  I hope this provides food for the reader, and to ponder the very first question I asked about complacency, the role of education, values and etiquette, in the face of consumerism .

3

I aim to  briefly describe and discuss the various roles of the courtesan( which have existed, almost everywhere)  in different societies/cultures, such as Ancient Greece, Japan/Far East, parts of Europe, Africa, with an exploration of the slave/servant system in the Topkapi Palace (Ottoman Empire).  Although the Topkapi system is not about the courtesan per se,  the servants and the like, who worked in there, were all given an education and learned  a range of skills, which I feel is an important factor, when many women outside the palace, probably were expected to have just the minimum of literacy skills, ( religious literacy).  Again, this situation of limited education, is echoed everywhere else.

I hope to explore the qualities and difficulties of courtesan lives, and what messages they have for us today

First of all, what I would like to do, is explore the notion of sacred sexuality and the priestesses, temple dancers, et al because this is where it all starts, or has to start.

Hope you enjoy this journey of discovery………………

Barefoot Flamenco with Valerie Romanin ( A Londres)   Leave a comment

Barefoot Flamenco……..

It is exactly what is says on the tin!

It is a form of flamenco danced barefoot, as it would have been, danced originally by Gitano performers. Many dancers have in modern times, danced barefoot, and barefoot flamenco speaks, too of its origins with the Gitanos, whose ancestors migrated from North West India.  Kathak,a North Western Indian dance,  is perhaps the mother of Flamenco, with its footwork, torso work and stances. I have recently taken studies in Kathak dance. It is fascinating to see what  similarities that Kathak and Flamenco share, as well as the differences they have between them.

Valerie is both a Flamenco and Bellydancer, based in London, but originally from France. She has been a life-long dancer, clearly evident in her musicality, and understanding of weight and flow of dance movement. To boot, she is an excellent, enthusiastic and encouraging teacher, someone who can break down the hardest of all moves , to the point where you wonder, how on earth you found it difficult in the first place……

Valerie has monthly classes of Barefoot Flamenco, at the Red Door, 24a Lloyd Baker St, London, about 15 minute  or less, walking distance  from Kings’ Cross station. I travel to London, to catch her workshops, whenever I can. I have been doing this, since 2010.   In addition she does weekly bellydance/oriental, and barefoot flamenco classes.

Valerie’s barefoot workshops consist of working through the fundamentals of Flamenco: palmas (clapping) torso movement, floreos (wrist movements) braceos (arm movements) expression, posture, foot rhythms and zapateado ( footwork) with the shoes. Footwork without shoes, is indeed much harder, as you have to flex your arches higher. With shoes, you are already lifted off the ground. So, barefoot flamenco is more of a challenge in that respect, but I would also add, it is much more earthed, so you are connected to the ground or your base chakra, so to speak as you dance. In effect, it reminds me, then of Kathak, although footwork in this dance, has its own technique and differences.

One of Valerie’s strengths is her well-pace use of short choreography in the class. This helps reinforce linking movements, as well as capturing the essence of barefoot flamenco( with bellydance, or kalbelyia/Indian gypsy or tango , and so on)  Often,  she uses a combination of flamenco and bellydance moves to create a strong and free spirited fusion and choreography

. She  uses rhythms such as the malfuf (4/4) and the  sama’i (10/8) , to explore flamenco movement, and the movements and  rhythms fit like gloves: it is a matter of interweaving movement and rhythm.  She also uses bellydance movement to flamenco pieces (rumba and tangos rhythms for example)  and those work well too. Valerie’s extensive dance vocabulary includes ballet and she  has cleverly used a pas de valse as a linking step, in many of her drills/short choeros, for example.

All in all, very inventive and original. I attend a conventional and excellent Flamenco class, every week, and Valerie’s barefoot flamenco adds a lot of enrichment for my flamenco dance experience. It is like “thinking outside the box”. I recommend her workshops to other flamenco dancers, as well as bellydancers , interested in pursuing flamenco, as an additional dance style. So many of her dance students  are spreading the word, since she is the UK’s best kept secret!

Valerie’s  flamenco dance education has included extensive travelling to South America and Spain . A sense of msichief/sense of humour, delight,  sensitivity ,strength and skill infuse her performance, so she is equally skilled a performer, as a teacher.

Contact Valerie on info@flamencodescalzo.com. Her website is http://www.flamencodescalzo.com

Posted May 8, 2011 by zoraidagitana1965 in Uncategorized

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Hello world……………………………………..   Leave a comment

So, this is my first foray into blogging. Well, not strictly true, since I have written  blogs for my accounts on myspace and tribe.net. It feels a little more author-writer-like, here…………..

So who am I? 🙂  Little old me…. literally , a petite 5’0″.

I am a  British dancer /student of many Middle Eastern/bellydance styles: including Egyptian (Oriental/Cabaret/ Ghawazee(Roma/”Gypsy”) Saiidi, folk, Classical 1940’s) Turkish (Oriental and Roma), Moroccan (Schikhatt and Folk) Tunisian, ATS (American Tribal Style bellydance) and Tribal Fusion, Dunyavi “Gypsy” ( Turkish, flamenco and North Indian Roma styles fused by Dalia Carella of New York). I have been studying this form of dance since 1998.

Also since 1998, I have been a student of Flamenco, another great love of mine. I have had many teachers, who have studied both in Spain and in the UK, and have been lucky to study the many palos(styles) ; solea, soleares, bulerias, tientos, tangos, huelva, malaguena, with footwork ( oh yes!) castenet ( harder still!) and body work.

I have an interest in the Zambra Mora, which, strictly speaking, is a flamenco music form, which lent itself to beautiful choreographed dances in the 1940’s (with the resurgence of  an interest in Andalucia and her Moorish past). It has been touted as the oldest flamenco dance form , but research by dancers /writers such as Ana Ruiz explore this idea and come up with a more interesting dance truth. I’ve explored the Zambra Mora in my myspace and tribe .net accounts: http://www.myspace.com/qurtubiyya and http:// people.tribe.net/maureen-theresa .

More over, I have a deep and long term interest in Moorish Spain/Portugal: culture, art, artistry, poetry, literture,  history, language, mores and philosophies, which I hope can feed into my dance art  ( Middle Eastern and Flamenco dance) on some level.

I am currently learning kathak and ballet- both very highly disciplined dance forms. I am hoping to add a classical infrastructure to my Flamenco and Middle  Eastern dance studies. The classical teaches great mastery, depth, and the push for knowing everything inside out, that stands the test of time…..

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Alongside my dancing, I’m a writer, but I was a writer first. I write on many things:articles on art, arts, culture, cultures, language, languages, history, histories, anthropology, sociology, literature, socio-politics, women’s issues, gender issues, and more recently short-story writing. I want to explore short, lyrical, vivid poetry, both as descriptions and stories, capturing the sharpness and accuracy and romanticism of a Brancusi sculpture: my aims 🙂

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I journal dreams, since I want to listen to my intuition (  with Saturn in Pisces in my natal (astrological)  eighth house, it’s not surprising for me – for those of you who read astrology on a more psychological, subsconscious level – that Pisces is symbolical of dance, dreams, the feet, spirituality, the social conscience,  and  breaking down boundaries,in the eighth house of shared resources, sexuality, the hidden, the occult;  Saturn is the structure- what a good way then for me  to focus on writing clearly and deeply  on those  all themes……………. I’m sounding a little too serious , here, LOL…)

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In my day to day life, I teach foreign and second language students English, at a further education college. Hey, no one knows it’s me, writing all this…… 🙂