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Amel Tafsout

Mezdulene's Mystical Oasis with Amel Tafsout
By Denise Gilbertson "Dunyah"
 and Sally Havicus "Salome"

(Originally published in the Spring 2009 issue of Harrakat, the newsletter of the Middle Eastern Dance Guild of Eugene)

Part 1, by Dunyah

It was a cold, dreary day in December when a dozen women gathered in Sutherlin for a healing workshop with the renowned Algerian dancer Amel Tafsout. The day, which began with a bit of confusion about the location and time -- mundane matters -- ended with extraordinary experiences in the realm of spirit.

I think all of us who were there that day felt a special bond toward each other, because of sharing a most unusual and intimate time together.

The day began with Sufi practices that involved movement, breath and chant. Amel guided us through warm-up exercises while creating a sense of sacred space in the very ordinary, rather drafty school gymnasium which was to be the center of our universe for the day. Candles, flowers and spiritual cards helped define the space. Amel's guidance was most important in creating a sense of security and trust and making each participant feel valued and comfortable. We ended a few hours later with Turning, which is the devotional spinning practiced by Dervishes. The spinning was challenging and some experienced dizziness, nausea or even falling, but everyone made it through without incident. The point of the practice, as I understood it, is to connect the body and mind with Spirit.

After a lunch break, we gathered to begin the Zar/Hadra. This was the most powerful part of the day for me. The music Amel chose to accompany the Zar had  hypnotic drumming with chants and clapping, but it was not the usual slow 2/4 rhythm that many dancers know as the "zar." It was very steady and even though, perfectly designed for "trancing out."  Each trance dancer had a partner to assist and protect her during her voyage within. Later the partners switched roles. With gentle bouncing and swaying movements of the body, (but no head tossing as commonly portrayed in staged versions of the zar), we began to sink into the moment. A scarf covered each dancer's eyes, offering privacy and underscoring the inward nature of the trance.  A blanket was spread out on the floor nearby. A gentle touch from the partner let her know that support, emotional as well as physical, was nearby. Each of us had an idea of what we wanted to "let go." After awhile, as the intensity built up, each dancer experienced a release, sometimes accompanied by powerful emotions, sank to the floor and was covered with her blanket, supported with a reassuring touch from her partner, and attended by Amel, who used water on the hands and face to help bring the person "back." I believe that each and every participant experienced some kind of powerful release that day. It was amazing. Afterward, everyone looked as if they had been taking a nap, sitting up and stretching, blinking and wrapped in a blanket!

"The zar,” Amel told us, “ is better than any drug."  Very true, as there were no ill effects, no hangover, no guilt or remorse, and it was all perfectly legal! Writing this makes me realize that I would very much like to experience the zar again. Soon!

I was very impressed with Amel's ability to tune in to each participant and offer the kind of support and information she needed. As word of these workshops spreads, she is being invited to do more and more of them all over the world. I feel very blessed to have been able to experience this powerful workshop less than 100 miles from home. This year the Mystical Oasis truly was mystical!

Sally and I danced in the show that evening. I wasn't sure how much energy I would have for my dance, after a full and exhausting day. But, surprise, surprise (really, no surprise at all), the show was brilliant. Everyone was "on." I felt great and I felt that I danced well. The emotional release, plus the joy and excitement of being there with everyone, gave me extra energy for my performance. It was a really great performing experience. And it was wonderful to see Amel working her "magic" during her dance performance. She is truly one of a kind, a unique and powerful performer and a remarkable workshop leader. I am really looking forward to having her here in Eugene in April. I highly recommend her!

Part II, by Salome

I had no idea what it was that we were about to experience that day. I was excited, anxious, and a little nervous just for the unknown. I was a blank slate. I brought what Amel had requested us to bring; candy, flowers, a blanket and a shawl. Curious items, I thought. What was going to happen? Amel explained everything. The feeling, emotional, ethnic and historical information was shared by her as to why these techniques are done and by whom. I too was so impressed with how the ‘sacred space’ was created, AND how it was maintained. Can’t explain it…… was a safe-zone. I even had a difficult time leaving it. On our break, I went outside briefly, but felt like I would just rather be inside our ‘zone’, so I ate lunch inside where I was drawn.

I really enjoyed the breath exercises. Amel had us breathing deeply and at one point ‘blowing’ energy to each other across our opened palms. Making eye contact, blowing energy to each other, receiving the energy. I was struck with how ‘simple’ this exercise was and how effective it was too. I liked this energy exchange so much that I added a small version of this effect to my January MEDGE performance. It felt like I was blessing the audience with my breath.

I did NOT think I was going to be able to spin. I had a lot of worry about that particular exercise. But low and behold, Amel explained HOW to do it, what to look at, and what to think when you find yourself becoming a little dizzy. Spinning. Spinning. Looking at my hand up in the air above my head, spinning and bringing my hand low…..still looking only at my hand…(Amel walking around singing and smudging us with incense)…..I started to fade away. A few moments past that I can’t explain, then I became ‘aware’ and immediately was dizzy. I kept spinning, but brought my hand closer to my face and (by Amel’s directive) said “what a beautiful hand” over and over to myself. Dizziness went away and I could continue. I was absolutely shocked at my success with this particular process.

My Zar partner was Sakari from Roseburg. And like Denise mentioned, I feel a special connection with Sakari now. After the Zar, I felt like I just woke up from a very long nap. I was fuzzy and content. Then it hit me “how are you going to have energy enough to dance tonight?” Denise and I were both a little worried about our energy level, because we felt so CALM and relaxed. But boy howdy! I think that evening’s performance was one of my very best ever. I felt more ‘on’ than ever. I felt one with my music, body and soul; even forgetting there was an audience watching me. This workshop was an amazing experience and I would take it again in a HEARTBEAT if offered! In fact, I would love it if MEDGE would bring Amel back up here to Eugene for these healing workshops!

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