Oasis Dance Camp -- It's Not Just a Camp Any More!
(This essay was written by
Sherezzah Bint al-Waha,
and was published in
Let me start off by confessing that I've been a big fan of
Oasis Dance Camp for many years.
Many, many years--ever since I first discovered it in 1988.
I've attended every year since then
(sometimes twice a year, since they've started multiple locations),
and so I've had a lot of opportunity to watch how it has evolved over the years.
This past January I attended Oasis Dance Camp South in Jekyll Island, GA
and I find myself reflecting on how Oasis has changed with time and with location.
My first Camp was in its original and only location at the time,
Traverse City, MI.
That location is, indeed, a "camp".
No, we weren't outside in tents,
but we were out in a remote wooded location by a lake,
with one building having a kitchen,
where we had our communal meals and most of our classes;
and the other building being the dorm,
where you shared a room with 3 other campers,
with shared bathrooms down the hall.
Yes, it's bit rustic--you need to bring your own bedding and towels,
you need to clean up after yourself and bus your own tables after meals.
But mostly what I remember is how nice everyone was.
I had travelled from Florida to Michigan by myself,
not knowing anyone who was going to be there
(I went because I had been impressed by Cassandra at a workshop
a couple years earlier, and I wanted to study with her again).
But by the time Camp was over 4 days later I had made a bunch of new friends.
Combine that with the top-quality classes and fun additional activities,
and it's no wonder I felt compelled to return, again and again.
So, back in the 90s,
when they started a new location in the Florida-Georgia area
(close enough for me to drive to, instead of flying),
obviously I had to start going there.
I've gotten most of my troupemates turned on to it,
so they join me and we make a "girls' week out" of it.
And we all enjoy making new friends, the fun times,
and the great classes (and Cassandra).
For the South location, they decided to try a different approach,
and base the event in a hotel instead of a camp
(although they still call it "Oasis Dance Camp").
This provides a less-rustic alternative for those who prefer a private bath,
or who don't want to bring their own bedding.
But hotels can have their own issues,
and the Camp organizers have less direct control over the environment.
So it has been with Camp South;
every year there seems to be some kind of glitch, with the service,
or the food, or something.
It has never been significant enough to spoil the overall Camp experience,
and the directors always do everything possible to make things OK,
but the result has been that they still haven't settled on
a "perfect" location for Camp South.
So this past January Oasis South was at the Oceanside Inn and Suites in Jekyll Island.
It's a lovely location, right on the ocean,
but there were some of those glitches (which got resolved, for the most part).
But most importantly, this Oasis still had all the important things
which I've come to expect--and love--about it.
Conditioning class (a.k.a. "sunrise stretch"):
This actually wasn't part of Oasis when I first started going.
Cassandra, being a professional dancer, of course does regular exercises
to keep herself in shape.
During those first years at Camp,
she would get up early to do her stretch-and-tone exercises on her own.
After a couple of years,
they decided it made sense to have other campers join her if they wanted.
Personally, I seldom get up early enough to participate,
but when I have, I thought it was really wonderful.
This year, she finally had her conditioning class DVD out,
so I bought that--now I can take her class whenever I want!
Classes with Cassandra: Cassandra has been at the top of my
list of favorite teachers ever since I first took a workshop with her in 1985.
And I like how Oasis includes technique classes,
focussing on movements and combinations, and not just choreography.
Cassandra's technique classes are always fun and pleasant, and still,
every time I take another session with her,
she comes up with something new that I will find a challenge.
I also love her choreographies and the intimate way they relate to the music.
This year she taught a really fun Spanish-Arabic fusion number that
included a lot of Flamenco stylings.
Guest teacher: This year's guest teacher was Habiba, of Philadelphia.
Habiba has taught previously at Camp,
sharing her special knowledge of Ghawazee, Tunisian, and Andalusian styles.
This year she was back by popular demand, teaching Tunisian.
I happen to love the folkloric styles,
and I think it's wonderful that Oasis often includes them,
and it's a privilege to be able to learn from such a knowledgeable source.
And it's worth learning, even for those who aren't that into the folklore,
because more knowledge can only enhance your dance.
(For example, although we didn't get to see it at this particular Camp,
I have seen Habiba on other occasions slipping some of those
Tunisian twists into her Orientale.)
"Sit-down" classes: These, too, weren't part of the first Oasis I attended,
but they soon became the norm for that hour right after lunch,
when you really need to be digesting your food
and not doing so much strenuous physical activity.
These are great not just for that,
but because they allow you to find out about things that are interesting,
even important, but that you seldom otherwise get an opportunity to learn about.
The topics vary from year to year and instructor to instructor;
this year we had Habiba demonstrating the Tunisian costume,
saw video of the Tunisian folklore,
and had a Q&A with the teachers on any topic we wanted
(we mostly talked about travel in the Mid-east).
We also had a class on zill patterns one evening after dinner.
The hafla: Of course there's a show;
anyone can perform who wants to,
and they actually welcome other talents besides Middle Eastern Dance
(although they are not often seen).
I've always been impressed with the overall quality of the show.
It's also been interesting to see how the show has evolved over the years.
They've always set it up with numerous short breaks,
so performers don't have to wait backstage for long periods of time
and so can still watch most of the show.
In the first years, they did the "standard" setup:
the show was the last night of Camp, and Cassandra (as the "star")
was the final act in the show.
But, because many people were performing, the show would get pretty long,
and it could be quite late before she went on, which wasn't very pleasant for her.
So, that first year I went, Cassandra went on first;
in later years, she took to going on whenever she felt ready.
I think that made the overall show more balanced.
Then, a few years ago, one of the Camp directors had a scheduling issue
and they needed to switch the show to Friday night instead of the usual Saturday;
that also turned out to be kind of nice because folks were able to
get the stress of performing over with,
so on Saturday they could just relax and have a good time.
So they kept it.
And this year, they set it up with two shows:
a Camper show on Friday, and a staff show on Saturday.
I thought this was another excellent idea;
the shows don't go on as late,
and no Camper gets stuck having to perform right after Cassandra :-)
(They used to have a fashion show on the other evening,
but that's become less interesting with more people purchasing pre-made costumes.)
Other evening activities:
Thursday evening we had a Camper flea market,
which is a great opportunity to sell or trade stuff you might no longer want.
You never know when your unused stuff might be
just the treasure someone else is looking for!
We were also supposed to watch videos this evening,
but there was a problem with the TV provided by the hotel
(one of those glitches I mentioned earlier)
so the evening ended fairly early.
On Saturday after the staff show, it was party time!
Joani played bartender much of the evening,
making pomegranate martinis for everyone.
We put on music and danced (all styles, not just Middle Eastern).
It was a great way to spend our final evening together.
All-inclusivity: Oasis includes not just the classes and show,
but also your room and all your meals.
This is great because once you get there,
you really don't need to worry about anything.
You don't need to think about where you're going to go for dinner,
will you be able to get back in time for the evening activities, etc.
It also includes a CD with the music that the teachers are using,
and a Camp "manual" that includes choreography notes
along with other useful information.
Yes, there's vending, so you can shop if you want,
but what you need is included.
Getting to know the other Campers:
Oasis is a great way to network.
Dancers come from all over,
and you actually get a chance to know and make friends with them.
Part of the reason is that you have your meals together (as mentioned above),
so you have a chance to have real conversations.
Another part of the reason is the introductions:
everyone gets to introduce themselves to the group.
This used to be done at mealtimes, over the course of Camp,
but sometimes that would go until the very last day,
depending on how many people there were and how long they talked.
So this year they decided to have everyone introduce themselves
at the opening ceremonies, which actually makes a lot more sense.
I did miss having our drummer, Nicole LeCorgne, there this year;
I heard she had a scheduling conflict.
She's been part of the Oasis staff since 1996,
providing accompaniment for technique classes
and teaching music and percussion classes.
I must say, it's very cool to have a live drummer.
So this year Oasis Dance Camp has been going on for 25 years...
obviously, they must be doing something right.
But, they're still getting better all the time.
This year they're planning a new location
in Luxor, Egypt--and I'm planning to be there!
For more information on Oasis, see their web site at
our ODC page
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