Leslie Strang Akers
moves through the crowd, an elegant vision in her Madame Abla costume. She
reaches the stage and claims it as her own. Graciously, she circles and
greets her audience. The music changes. Cool desire pulses into gypsy fire.
The joy of life is reflected in her face. A shift in mood and then a transformation.
All curvaceous sensuality- she prowls catlike across the stage. She is hungry
for life and love. The drums reach into her soul and she is caught in their
rhythm. The excitement carries her and the audience to a crescendo. She
swirls into the close of her dance. She bows and blows a kiss to the audience,
once again a woman of refinement.
following has been edited and updated by Angelika Nemeth.)
Years and Other Careers
Nemeth has been traveling and seeking to enhance her knowledge most of her
life. For over two decades she has journeyed through the paths and roads
of Oriental Dance, and has studied with many notables of Middle Eastern
Dance in Egypt and the United States. She teaches workshops and lectures
and has performed in Canada, England, Germany, Japan and throughout the
USA. In 1982 and 1983 she arranged two dance study tours to Egypt and since
1987 has been producing critically acclaimed World Dance concerts at Orange
Coast College in Costa Mesa, California. Throughout the 1980's and 90's,
she performed in all the top Middle Eastern restaurant/night clubs in the
Los Angeles area. You may have seen her picture on the magazine covers of
Jareeda and Habibi and on Jalaledin's Volume III album
cover, or watched her on numerous dance videos like Raja Zahr's Dancing
Live to Raja or her own, Angelika and Ensemble Live in Concert.
Her dance peers recognize her as a leading exponent of this dance form.
Angelika was born in
Germany to Austro-Hungarian parents. When she was five years old, the family
immigrated to the United States and settled in Pennsylvania. For four years,
they lived in Philadelphia. Her community was ethnically diverse with African-Americans,
Hispanics and Jewish enclaves mixing with the new European immigrants. This
gave her the first taste of other cultures which she found both intriguing
Upon entering the culture
of America, Angelika also discovered the world of Hollywood films. The exotic
portrayal of Middle Eastern romanticism in such films as Ali Baba and
the Forty Thieves took hold of her imagination. She often identified
with and fantasized about being the beautiful dancer in such films.
As is often the case,
the teen years were tumultuous. Angelika sought refuge and recognition primarily
through American rock and roll dancing during that time. "I was a natural
street dancer. I would see a move and then go home to practice it in front
of the mirror until I got it right." If she had been in the Middle East,
the movement vocabulary would have been of the Raks Sharki. But she
was in America and the influences of Mother Africa came through Black American
rhythm-and-blues inspired Rock and Roll. The beat held ascendancy for Angelika
and would be of major importance in her journey to Oriental Dance.
During her junior year
in college, Angelika had the opportunity to study in Germany and travel
throughout Europe. While at the university in Marburg, she befriended a
Persian student who invited her to family gatherings. This experience provided
her with an intriguing glimpse into the Persian culture and a lasting fascination
for all things Middle Eastern.
After returning to the
United States and finishing college, Angelika was offered a position as
a high school German teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. But she could
not bring herself to sign the contract. Instead, she went to New York City
to join the National Maritime Union in order to work on cruise ships and
pursue her passion for travel. While working on cruise ships she had the
opportunity to travel worldwide. Then a friend suggested that she interview
for a position as a flight attendant, which she did, and was hired by World
Airways in Oakland, California. After four years, she left her position
and moved to Southern California, where she found a belly dance class taught
by Feiruz Aram. Feiruz introduced her to Oriental Dance. "I learned the
most from her when she just cut loose and danced during class. My strength
as an improvisational dancer comes in part from all my lessons with her.
Another thing that was an important lesson for me was Feiruz's unconditional
love for her students and this dance form."
In 1974, Angelika had
an opportunity to give a talk about Middle Eastern dance to the B'nai B'rith
in the city of Downey. During her research for this presentation, she was
surprised that most of the articles on Oriental Dance were by a dancer named
Morocco. Magazines that we now take for granted, such as Habibi and
Arabesque, did not exist. Her lecture-demonstration to the B'nai
B'rith proved to be a starting point towards a new career; she was hired
to teach Middle Eastern Dance at the Downey Community Center in Southern
When Feiruz decided
to take a sabbatical to Cairo, Egypt, in 1976, she needed someone to teach
her class at Long Beach City College. Since Angelika had a teaching degree,
she was accepted on Feiruz's recommendation. When Feiruz returned there
were actually enough students for two accredited classes. Angelika taught
the beginning students, while Feiruz taught the advanced class.
Coast College and the Concerts
the late seventies, Orange Coast College (OCC) in Costa Mesa, California,
hired Angelika onto the dance faculty to teach Middle Eastern dance. However,
at this time, the established dance community as well as the general public
did not take Danse Orientale seriously. Therefore, it was not surprising
that Angelika's students were not asked to audition for the prestigious
annual student dance concert. In order for her students to have a performing
outlet, Angelika created her own dance recitals. The first recitals were
held in the dance studio in the summer of 1977.
By 1982, the popularity
of these recitals necessitated a move from the studio to the larger Fine
Arts Recital Hall, and An evening of Middle Eastern Dance was born.
For the first time an admission was charged, however, it was still a recital
on its way to becoming a concert. There were endless hours of rehearsal
and Angelika was always looking for rehearsal space. In 1983, the department
chair, Karen Shanley, took notice. She was surprised that Angelika had accomplished
so much with so little departmental support. The following year, she gave
her a repertoire class which allotted a specific time and place for rehearsals.
The concerts became
ever more popular. 1984 saw the expansion of the concert to two performances,
Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon. This was necessary, as they had to
turn people away at the door the previous year. In 1986 a dance drama/comedy,
"Harem Rhapsody" was included in the concert. Agnes Makk was the creatrix
of the piece and also did the artwork for the flyers. Angelika fondly remembers,
"Agnes was a great inspiration. Her creativity and artistry added a new
and exciting dimension to the concerts." Subsequently, Agnes created three
more dance/drama pieces. Beside the flyers, she also designed the costumes,
stage sets and the lighting for her pieces.
Another individual of
whom Angelika speaks with great admiration and respect is Dorothy Hefner,
whose dance career dates back to the days of Vaudeville. Angelika relied
upon and benefited from Dorothy's expertise and choreographic skills to
the extent that Dorothy became an integral part of every production and
eventually became her personal dance coach as well. "Another important member
of the production team has been Leslie Akers," Angelika adds. "Her talent
for writing produced the program notes and press releases. She always had
great ideas and solutions to problems."
The venue of the concert
was still the 240-seat Recital Hall. Over the years, the director of Community
Services at OCC, George Blanc, had taken note of the successful performances
given by Angelika and her group. He had repeatedly offered Angelika the
prestigious Robert B. Moore Theater, which at that time seated 1200. Angelika
had refused for two reasons: she thought the raised proscenium stage would
disrupt the connection with the audience and she worried that she could
not fill the seats with enough people. But her dreams outweighed her fears
and she knew it was a risk that had to be taken. In 1987, the concert moved
to the Robert B. Moore Theater. It had taken ten years for the recital to
evolve into a bona fide theatre concert.
By 1987, the concert
had become an extravaganza with the pre-production work actually beginning
a year and a half in advance with the booking of the theater and special
guest artists. There was now such a vast amount of organization in terms
of people and paper that Angelika decided to hold the concert every other
year. One of the many beneficial outcomes of these concerts was that the
Middle Eastern dance students were now invited to audition and perform in
the annual student dance concert presented each Spring in the Robert B.
In order to reach new
audiences, Angelika began to include other ethnic dance forms that related
to Middle Eastern Dance, i.e., Flamenco and East Indian. By showcasing both
Spanish and classical Indian dance in these concerts, she has been instrumental
in expanding the World Dance Program at OCC. In 1991, her concert with a
show on Saturday and Sunday was attended by almost a thousand people and
competed successfully with other professional shows presented in the theater
Angelika had achieved
her goal. Her dream was realized. She had produced beautiful, professional
quality concerts, which not only entertained, but also educated the public
at large about the variety and scope of Middle Eastern Dance. She had learned
that with a clear focus, determination and hard work, any goal could be
reached, any dream obtained.
Angelika's work at OCC
has had a major impact on Middle Eastern dance in Southern California and
has contributed to the growing worldview of this dance as an art form. Literally,
hundreds of students have danced in her recitals/concerts since their inception
in 1977, and many have gone on to become Oriental dance teachers and performers.
Although Angelika was justifiably proud of her creations, she felt that
the concerts had for a time run their course, and took a five-year break.
She resumed her high-quality, high-powered tradition with her May 1996 concert
-- which featured Sahra and her Egyptian show. Angelika's last concert to
date was in May 2000. It was a tribute to one of her mentors, Ibrahim Farrah
- a pioneer of Danse Orientale in the USA - and featured his New
York City based dance company.
In 1997, Angelika and
her colleagues, Sahra C. Kent and Shareen el Safy, as well as Orange Coast
College, became part of Middle Eastern Dance history by producing and hosting
the 1 st International Conference on Middle Eastern Dance. The
Saturday night concert featured Mona El Said from Cairo, Egypt, and Amani
from Beirut, Lebanon. The 2nd conference was also held at OCC,
May 25-28, 2001, and featured four legendary Egyptian stars: Nagwa Fouad
& Mohammed Khalil and Farida Fahmy & Mahmoud Reda. There are tentative plans
for a 3rd conference in 2005.
OCC Dance Department
is ranked one of the best among Community College dance departments
in the nation. It continues to offer accredited Middle Eastern Dance
classes as well as a two-year Certificate of Achievement in Dance Instruction,
World Dance and Body Conditioning/Pilates. Currently, Angelika supervises
the OCC World Dance Certificate Program.