Monthly Archives: June 2012

WAMEDA Pays Tribute to Gerson Kuhr aka the "Fitness Pharaoh"

WAMEDA (the Washington Area Mid-East Dance Association) Pays Tribute to Gerson Kuhr, Long-time WAMEDA Board Member, Master of Ceremonies, and Fitness Trainer

Gerson Kuhr, aka The Fitness Pharaoh, has been an active member and supporter of the WAMEDA community for more than two dozen years. The July/August 2012 edition of the WAMEDA Journal will highlight his contributions to the WAMEDA community. This blogpost presents additional material about Mr. Kuhr, focusing on his role in supporting dancers through physical fitness coaching.

As the area’s reigning “Fitness Pharaoh,” he’s coached some of our best performers, and developed and produced a fitness DVD specifically for belly dancers – starring some of the area’s finest! He’s been Master of Ceremonies in more shows than any of us can recall. He’s even performed a cameo role in several of these. (One or two such roles were even as a “personae” within a dance.) Who else can this be but Gerson Kuhr?

In addition to the many ways in which he has enriched and ennobled our dance community for many years, he has played a particularly active and significant role within the Washington Area Mid-East Dance Association (WAMEDA) itself: He’s been a Board member (several times), and for many years, together with his wife Cindy, he was Co-Editor of the WAMEDA Newsletter. In addition, he has attended nearly all of our shows, whether or not he was called upon (as he usually has been) in his time-honored role as Master of Ceremonies.

Gerson Kuhr as Master of Ceremonies in Alay’nya’s Diamonds, the Casablanca Restaurant, 2003. Mr. Kuhr played the role of the Jeweler, viewing the various “jewels” in his collection.

In the following, Alay’nya interviews Mr. Kuhr about his role in the dance community.

Alay’nya: How did you come to be interested in Mid-Eastern dance?

Gerson: Even in my youth, I was dedicated to physical fitness, and became top-ranked within my school’s Presidential Physical Fitness program. At that time, my only exposure to Mid-Eastern dance was through small glimpses in the movies. Later, when I had a chance to see my first professional Mid-Eastern dancer perform, I was completely impressed with the precision and completeness of her physical control; the isolations and undulations. I recognized that Mid-Eastern dance, as an art form, blended sensuality with very demanding physical mastery.

Alay’nya: You’ve played many roles in the WAMEDA community, both literally and figuratively. How did you get involved with WAMEDA?

Gerson: My wife, Cindy, was studying with (the renowned Silver Spring-based dance performer and teacher) Artemis. Artemis gave Cindy a copy of the WAMEDA journal. (It just happened that this was a journal where the cover featured Artemis!) Cindy and I went to the next meeting, and from there, our involvement with the WAMEDA community grew. Cindy and I were co-editors of the WAMEDA Newsletter between 1998 and 2006. All in all, we published 48 editions.

Alay’nya: Your fame as a fitness trainer and coach for Mid-Eastern dancers began to spread then. How did that happen?

Gerson: Donna Gregory (formerly Editor of the WAMEDA Journal), asked me to write a fitness article for the WAMEDA Journal. This led to more articles, and she dubbed me “WAMEDA’s Personal Trainer.”

Alay’nya: After your role in fitness coaching became known throughout the WAMEDA community, others asked for your inputs. How did this happen?

Gerson: Bob Winn and his wife Shalimar Serene, co-publishers of The Caravan Magazine (a belly dance magazine publishing up through the late 2000’s) requested an article series. I wound up doing 40 articles under the tile “Caravan’s Personal Trainer” for The Caravan, between 2002 and 2005.

Alay’nya: How did this lead to your DVD, Core Training for Belly Dancers?

Gerson: It was actually Janet Quinn who immediately understood the significance and power of core training for belly dancers. She brought up the notion of doing a DVD, saying “Your exercises are so good, you ought to put them on a DVD.” She believed in what I was doing, and was the inspirational force behind my developing Core Training for Belly Dancers, which featured Aliya, Amustela, and Nimeera demonstrating the movements, and was produced by Yasmin, who has an excellent production studio and who has produced several notable DVDs. We launched in September 2006, and sales have been steady ever since.

Alay’nya: My book, Unveiling: The Inner Journey, mentions your fitness training DVD:

“One very excellent resource is Core Training for Belly Dancers, a DVD produced by Gerson Kuhr, aka ‘The Fitness Pharaoh.”

Though designed to meet the needs of dancers, almost all women can benefit by following either of the two routines demonstrated on this DVD.” Why did you choose leading area belly dancers to star in your fitness routines, instead of going with the industry-recommended “fitness models”?

Gerson: I had been coaching leading area dancers for some time, and felt that the three ladies that I chose – Aliya, Amustela, and Nimeera – not only represented different age groups and performance styles, but that dancers who knew them as performers would rapidly understand the connection between their physical conditioning and their superb performance skills.

Mr. Kuhr produced the highly-ranked and well-received Core Training for Belly Dancers fitness DVD.

Alay’nya: Jerry Thompson, Co-Founder of Dancer: The Unusual Store, has said about you:

“Although Gerson and Cindy may be best known for their work on the newsletter we should also remember their other contributions as members of the board and contributions to WAMEDA shows.”

You’ve not only been one of the area’s most-desired Master of Ceremonies (MCs) for WAMEDA and other shows, but you’ve actually been featured in some. How did this come about?

Gerson: It started when Laurel Victoria Gray asked me to play a minor role in her magnificent work, Egypta (premiering at the Kennedy Center in 2003). Later, when she needed a new male lead to perform as “Pharaoh,” she asked me to take on that role. This is when I began to be known as “The Fitness Pharaoh,” and the picture taken of my from the Egypta performance is the one on my DVD.

Gerson Kuhr in his role as Pharaoh in Laural Victoria Gray’s Egypta, 2003.

Alay’nya: This led to other cameo roles, didn’t it?

Gerson: Yes, I was the Jeweler as well as the MC for your show, Diamonds, held at the Casablanca Restaurant in 2003. Also, I helped Amustela reprise a classic Samya Gamal movie role, acting the part of the “interested gentleman” around whom Samya (and later Amustela) flirtatiously danced. (Author’s note: The referenced movie clip came from The Stars of Egypt collection produced by Hossam Ramzy, where Vol. 3, Part 1 focuses exclusively on Samya Gamal.)

Alay’nya: Amustela notes that you were the first to recognize the similarity between her evolving (and always creative) dance style and the elegant and beautiful Samya Gamal. She says:

“The thing about Gerson that always endears him to me was after the very first time he saw me perform (at a WAMEDA Hafla in 2000), he said how I reminded him of Samya Gamal – what he did not know is that Samya Gamal had been an inspiration and idol of mine for years – it touched me deeply that he saw that in me. To this day anytime he MC’s an event he always introduces me with that reference to Samya, and I love him for it every time!”

Gerson: Amustela has always been very dear to the entire WAMEDA community, and is one of the most creative performers that we have right now. It was great to recognize that she was an emerging talent in the great tradition of some of the world’s leading performers.

Alay’nya: Thank you, Gerson! We appreciate your time for this interview. The entire WAMEDA community is enormously grateful to you for your support and encouragement over many years.

Karen McLane’s "Crowning of the Woodland Queen" – A Powerful Work for Our Time

Karen McLane’s The Crowning of the Woodland Queen – A Suitable Repertoire Work for Any Dance Company

When I was growing up (attending a Catholic school, no less!), we had the yearly ritual of crowning Mary, the mother of Jesus, as “Queen of May.” Now of course the Catholic church has survived as well as it has, over more than two millenia, by successfully adapting and incorporating rituals and practices of earlier times.

Photo credit: Robin G. Jordan in Anglicans Ablaze. Traditional Roman Catholic and Anglo-Catholic ceremony of crowning Mary as the “Queen of May.”

However, we have a much more ancient archetype of the “Divine Feminine,” called by many names in many different cultures over time. Here, she is shown as the Woodland Queen.

Traditionally, one of the most powerful ways in which we humans have not only honored our most important archetypes, but understood their message and power in our lives, was through dance ritual and storytelling. Storytelling today – when done by a gifted storyteller such as Diane Wolkstein – continues to enthrall us because we are brought into the personal connection and energy of the storyteller’s presentation.

Diane Wolkstein, performing at the National Storytelling Festival, Jonesborough.

However, dance ritual is the other way in which we have historically “told stories” to ourselves. This goes back for many millenia; far longer than any specific religious church, sect, or denomination in existence today. Dance ritual, in fact, is one of the defining characteristics of human civilization. No one makes this point better than Iris Stewart, in her defining book Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance.

Karen McLane, with her troupe Ancient Rhythms Dance Company, recently enacted one such dance ritual in their performance of the Crowning of the Woodland Queen, at the Montgomery Community Arts Center on Saturday, May 26th. Her The Crowning of the Woodland Queen brings to life one of the most ancient of ritual dance forms, yet suitably updated for our times.

There is a storyline here; a struggle not so much of good against evil, but more of light against dark. In that, the story is reminiscent of the heroic myths that we all know and love – ranging from Star Wars to the earliest stories of our time.

Yet, there is a significant difference between the archetypal struggle portrayed in the Crowning, as compared to the classic Heroic Journeys first identified by Joseph Campbell in his well-known classic, the Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In the older, “heroic” storylines, such as depicted in sagas ranging from the Odyssey to Star Wars, the hero vanquishes his opponent. In this newer, and more evolved storyline, the hero(ine) does the necessary vanquishing, but then brings her opponent (her “dark side”) into herself as an act of integration. I emphasize this in my previous blogpost on the Crowning.

This is powerful stuff. It makes sense that we ask ourselves: where does this new, much more integrative and powerful storyline come from? Is it brand-new to humanity, or – as with Campbell’s Hero – does it link with a much more ancient provenance?

We find an answer if we look into the first known collection of human stories; those about the great goddess Inanna, “Queen of Heaven and Earth.”

The Inanna story is precisely what is being depicted in the Crowning of the Woodland Queen. Just as Joseph Campbell pointed out the underlying similarity of all heroic stories, there is a profound and poignant similarity between the Inanna myth and the Crowning.

“But wait,” you might say, if you’re at all familiar with the story first told in cuneiform tablets, and only popularized in this century. “Inanna didn’t rescue herself; she didn’t subdue her dark sister Erishkegal. In fact, Erishkegal put Inanna to death, and hung her on a hook to rot. And in Karen McLane’s story, the Woodland Queen defeats the Queen of Shadows, and then integrates her.”

And you’d be absolutely right. Inanna was indeed killed, and hung up on a hook. At that point, she was powerless to save herself.

However, Inanna was one smart cookie, and she knew what she was getting into even before she entered the Underworld.

Precisely because she knew what was going to happen to her, Inanna instructed her warrior-handmaiden Ninshubar to weep and plead for her in front of the Father Gods, should Inanna fail to return within three days. This is precisely what Ninshubar did, until Father God Enki relented and created two little “sprites” that he sent down into the Underworld to rescue Inanna.

The rest, as we way, is history. Inanna returns to her palace, and a new storyline unfolds.

However, for the first time in human history, we have a story of having a goddess (or even a god) encountering her or his “dark side.” There isn’t much time, as Inanna makes her fast and furious way back to the “regular world,” for integration. For real, true integration, we need to look deeply into the story of Jesus of Nazareth.

This understanding of encountering our “dark side,” and integrating it, has emerged with much more force in the last century. There has always been some understanding of it, but now, more and more people are becoming aware of this aspect of who-we-are.

Eckhart Tolle describes this as our pain-body.

I write about this in Unveiling: The Inner Journey.

So what should we do?

Recognize our shadow when it comes out. As the Woodland Queen does in the Crowning, we defeat our Shadow by taking away its power. But then, we don’t spurn and abuse our Shadow. She is, after all, a part of us. Instead, we join with her. (T’ai Chi students will understand what this means.) We mirror her. (Neurolinguistic psychology students will understand what this means.) And then blend with her, causing her momentum to join with and aid our own. (Ba Gua martial artists and judokas and aikido practitioners will understand what that means.)

And if we’re not practicing one of the internal martial arts such as T’ai Chi, Ba Gua, judo, or aikido?

We use our own dance art. We use it to pull up our stuff (because our “opponent” is inside ourselves, after all.) And we practice softening, relaxing, and releasing. All of our spinal release moves are designed to help us deal with this. You can read about this in Unveiling: The Inner Journey, Chapters 14-16.

And we go to see performances of the Crowning of the Woodland Queen, whenever we can. And take those whom we love; those who want some healing in their lives. And let the story of how the young Queen defeats and then integrates her Shadow encourage and empower our lives.