By Leslie Strang Akers

She 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.
(The following has been edited and updated by Angelika Nemeth.)

Early Years and Other Careers
Angelika 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 and stimulating.

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 California.

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.

Orange Coast College and the Concerts
In 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. Moore Theater.

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 that year.

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.

The 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.

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